In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of Duluth's summer staple activities and events will have to wait, including Fourth Fest, Movies in the Park and the Chester Park concert series.
At a Wednesday afternoon news conference, city staff announced Duluth will fire off no fireworks this Fourth of July. But that doesn't mean the display will be canceled. Instead, city officials said it will be postponed until Labor Day.
Duluth's Fourth Fest typically draws about 10,000 people to Bayfront Festival Park, according to Jim Filby Williams, director of the city's properties parks and libraries division.
"We cannot responsibly hold this event this year until the threat of coronavirus has substantially decreased," he said. "We are following the lead of most similar parks agencies across the state in canceling or postponing our July Fourth fireworks."
Mayor Emily Larson said she explored a number of options.
"I know that many people were looking forward to fireworks, and I do want to assure you, because I know people get questions, that we did look at alternate ways we could do that," she said. "We looked at not hosting that at Bayfront. We looked at doing it on the water in some way. We looked at doing it on the beach in some way. "
"But in the end we made the decision that what people really love is the ability to gather together. And doing so at a time that was safer and a time that we could potentially celebrate that we're moving on as one community felt like the right way to do that," Larson said.
Filby Williams observed that in this time of social distancing and staying at home, outdoor activities can provide a welcome outlet.
"One of the great blessings of living in Duluth is enjoying our remarkable parks and trails system in the summer. And this year those summer park experiences are more important to the community's well-being than ever before," he said.
But Filby Williams stressed the importance of making responsible use of those outdoor spaces, calling on people avoid gatherings, maintain at least 6 feet of distance on trails as well as in parks, stay off all playground equipment and refrain from any contact activities, such as competitive basketball.
"All pandemic-related park policies are offered as guidelines to be followed voluntarily. Park users are expected to choose to comply, to make responsible choices to utilize parks in a manner that will minimize risks to public health. The city will not be enforcing park pandemic policies in a proactive fashion unless violations are egregious and the risks to public health extreme," he said.
"If residents use public parks responsibly, they will remain open," he said. But Filby Williams warned.: "Widespread non-compliance may lead to additional restrictions and closures."
While Duluth remains committed to keeping parks open, as long as that can be done safely, Filby Williams said people will need to adjust their expectations of parks this summer. He noted that two-thirds of the park department's staff has been cut in the face of budget shortfalls brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, he explained that city park facilities will remain mostly closed and less maintenance will occur.
Plumbed public restrooms remain closed. However, Filby Williams did note that the city is looking at installing some portable toilets in high-use city parks. He advised people to use them at their own risk and only when necessary, as they will be cleaned just once per day.
Filby Williams announced that the city will be closing a couple more roads to motorized traffic so as to safely accommodate more walkers and bicyclists, as well:
- West Skyline Parkway from the Magney-Snively Trailhead to Becks Road
- The paved cart path on the Lake Nine holes of the temporarily closed Lester Park Golf Course, for pedestrian use alone.