Flood damage in Staunton’s Gypsy Hill Park. (Photo: Ken Bosserman/The News Leader)
STAUNTON – After COVID-19 wrecked programs and recent flooding has taken out facilities, the Staunton Department of Parks and Recreation has tried to resume some kind of normality.
Some things, like adult soccer and softball leagues have reemerged, but according to the department’s director, Chris Tuttle, things have a long way to go before everything is back in order.
First there was pandemic that basically shut down the department in March. Then there was the summer flooding which damaged the city’s most popular recreation facility, Gypsy Hill Park.
Although Tuttle admits that he is still getting estimates to repair the damage, he thinks the figure will eventually come in between $60,000 and $100,000.
“It depends on how extensive the damage is,” he said.
Tuttle noted at the duck pond, the sidewalks were damaged. “Water got under it, and a small section was washed out,” he said.
He also said that the foot bridge connecting the duck pond and old bear cages lost half of its side when it collapsed into the creek. “It’s one of the oldest bridges in the park,” he recalled. “We hope to return it back.”
The miniature train in the park, the Gypsy Express, also suffered considerable damage, especially to its track. A committee that handles the facility is working on that.
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All three baseball fields suffered considerable damage, particularly to the fencing. More damage was done at the Gypsy Express and at the duck pond to the fencing. Tuttle said that he is receiving estimates for repairs.
At the swimming pools, there’s also a lot of work to be done. “There’s a lot of muck and mud to drain out and clean out,” Tuttle said. “This is the first time (flood) water has ever gotten into the pool.”
The flooding comes on top of the virus, which has completely altered recreation from what it used to be like.
“What we’ve had to do is a recommitment on how to operate our programs with guidelines from the government, what we can do and what we can’t do,” Tuttle said.
Fencing at the duck pond in Gypsy Hill Park was damaged by flooding in Staunton Saturday. (Photo: Ken Bosserman/The News Leader)
“How do we play a role when our citizens are at home? And we do have an answer through social media. We’ve offered programs online, like helpful hints for arts and crafts for small children.”
The recreation director also said the department developed a video on various activities you could do in the park such as walking and biking.
“We were not in the office, so we developed these remotely through zoom programs. Everything through phase one was closed in the park except biking, walking and family picnicking.
“Fishing was still open but everything else – golf, skateboard park, the gym and tennis courts were closed. Then phase two and three came along, and things started to open, but it was the new normal. Signage never seen before had to be out, like social distancing requirements.
“How fortunate Staunton is to have two large parks for walking, running and exercising. It gave some people a sense of normalcy.”
The department’s spring/summer 26-page activity guide had just been issued when the virus came on the scene, and just about every program in it had to be canceled. With that, 21 part-time people, who were the main instructors and staff for those programs lost their jobs.
“We hope as things improve to gradually bring back those people,” Tuttle said.
Within the planned spring/summer programming were over two dozen new activities. Old traditional ones, like trips, summer camp, before and after school care, personal development and senior programs all went by the boards with COVID-19.
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Now, getting back to some degree of normalcy has included opening facilities in the park such as ball fields, the skate park, tennis and basketball courts, the golf course and the gym.
“For golf, we’ve had good participation since it opened,” the recreation director said. “Golf lends itself to social distancing.”
At the Gypsy Hill gym, an exercise class with proper distancing inaugurated its reopening. “We’ll gradually bring things back there,” Tuttle said.
Still, many former activities remained closed.
At the top of the list are the swimming pools in both Gypsy Hill and Montgomery Hall parks.
“We felt for staff and public safety we couldn’t adhere to the standards to open,” Tuttle said. “Everything that drives my recommendations is on safety, and I have absolutely no regrets. There was a lot of research to make this determination.
“The regulations were so stringent, including numbers, spacing and lifeguards added another element. Then there was lawn chairs and social distancing which would be difficult at the Gypsy Hill and Montgomery Hall pools.
“I realize the impact it had. It’s something I didn’t take lightly. Swimming is one thing we like to do. It’s a tradition in Staunton.”
Activities this year at the bandstand also were canceled, but Tuttle said phase three has lessened restrictions.
“We can now have an event, but it must be under 250 counting performers and audience. And they must maintain social distancing.”
Wiped out this year was the summer concert series which included no Jazz in the Park, no Praise in the Park or no Wednesday Night Bluegrass. Also, the long-standing Stonewall Brigade Band was unable to perform earlier this summer.
“It’s been quiet all summer, and it just doesn’t feel normal,” Tuttle said.
But things might be trying to return to some degree of normalcy there too. The Stonewall Brigade Band has just resumed its weekly Monday night performances at the bandstand, and those are slated to continue through September.
When it comes to team sports, they have gradually begun again under strict limitations.
Although there was no Kiwanis Baseball this year, or youth football, the 13-18 Babe Ruth League has begun playing at Moxie Stadium with a late summer league, and there is also adult soccer and softball underway with seven mens and six co-ed softball teams, and 19 soccer teams.
“I was pleasantly surprised,” James Corbett, who handles athletics for the recreation department, said. “I’m really excited to be back to some kind of normalcy.”
Looking to the future, one thing that may be a casualty is the department’s program brochure.
“That’s another challenge,” Tuttle said. “We won’t have one until we have some flexibility on what to offer. It may be a while.”
One thing he thinks will happen will be the annual Christmas decorations in Gypsy Hill Park, the Holiday Lights.
“I see that happening, as well as the scarecrow contest at Halloween,” he said.
Also the horticultural landscape for the city should continue unaffected. “You can ride around town, and you won’t see any changes in our planning in the landscaping,” he noted.
Despite all the changes, Tuttle has nothing but praise for his staff both in recreation and park maintenance.
“The parks are in great shape,” Tuttle said. “Even our recreation staff has jumped in and mowed. Our staff has gone outside their normal duties to get the job done. For the director of the department to have a staff like this is truly a blessing. It’s not just a job, it’s a passion. I’ve had 34 years in it, and 30 have been here.
“Recreation now is more important than ever,” Tuttle concluded. “It’s an escape, it’s a relief. We are adapting, and we will come out stronger on the other end.”