St. Paul parks try different approach as Minneapolis closes basketball and tennis courts

A basketball hoop in Minneapolis is chained off as the park system makes COVID-19 changes.

The Twin Cities couldn't have asked for a better spring Saturday.

The sun was out, the temperatures were perfect, and everything was just right. But, Minnesotans weren't able to enjoy the beautiful weather to its fullest extent.

The pandemic has left many parks areas in the Twin Cities and beyond with limited facilities as city leaders try to slow the spread of COVID-19.

"All day long, I’m sitting in my kitchen table in online meetings and to be able to go outside and be outside makes kind of all the difference in the world," said Paul Lennander of Minneapolis.

"Before they closed down the basketball, we would sit over there and watch," said Lennander.

At city parks across Minneapolis, some things have changed. As of May 1, tennis courts are locked up and basketball court rims blocked or removed and all playgrounds, skateparks and athletic fields are closed. This after the park and rec board cited ongoing concerns over social distancing.

"I’m fine with it," said Lennander. "I'm willing to do what we need to do to be able to stay safe and keep ourselves safe."

And while rules are tightening up at Minneapolis city parks, it’s a different story in St. Paul. After initially taking the same steps as Minneapolis back in April, St. Paul is trying to open some things back up.

"We’re looking at a kind of phase one bringing about 11 courts online throughout the city, different pockets of town so that includes basketball courts and tennis courts," said Rec Services Manager Andy Rodriguez.

St. Paul Parks and Recreation is doing things a little differently. They are staffing those 11 locations with their “rec engagement crew” -- rec center staff who are shifting to new roles as part of a pilot program to reopen more park amenities.

"And that would be the role for our staff today to provide those resources," explained Rodriguez. "Where, it’s like you can’t play five-on-five basketball but you might be able to play a game of HORSE or shoot on separate baskets."

They feel the city is in a good place to loosen restrictions responsibly and hope the trend continues that way.

"We’re excited to get these courts back online and getting people out in the parks in a responsible way, and we want things to be successful," he said.