Playground break-ins draw concern from city of Kotzebue as COVID-19 keeps parks closed

Playground break-ins draw concern from city of Kotzebue as COVID-19 keeps parks closed

Orange plastic netting blocks off the Ashley Johnson-Barr Memorial Park in Kotzebue (Photo courtesy of City of Kotzebue)

As COVID-19 continues to be an issue statewide, the city of Kotzebue is pushing for residents to stop playing in the local parks. While the parks have been blocked off by the city with plastic netting barriers, Kotzebue Parks and Recreation director Paul Tallman says that locals have been breaking the netting at the Ashley Johnson-Barr Memorial Park. 

“It’s happened a few times, mainly in the evening,” Tallman said. “Seems like they’re cutting in there to go play. They did get run off by an officer last [Thursday] night.”

Kotzebue city manager Jeff Congdon says that because the virus can lay dormant on playground equipment, people run the risk of catching COVID-19 by playing in the parks, and that’s why they’re closed. 

“COVID-19 lasts a long time on solid surfaces, and can be spread by solid surface transmission pretty easily,” Congdon said. “And also to reduce congregating for social distancing to keep kids, or attempt to keep kids, who are not of the same household more than six feet apart.”

Congdon admits that the rest of the state is loosening it’s social distancing mandates at a faster rate than Kotzebue, but he says the city is working in conjunction with the Northwest Arctic Borough to make sure everything is done in a safe manner.

“With the tests available through Maniilaq, and following suit with the Northwest Arctic Borough’s reopening plan, the city will be reopening,” Congdon said. “Maybe not day by day in step with the borough, but fairly close to the timeframe of the borough’s re-opening.”

For locals wishing to spend time out in the sun, Congdon says there are a variety of outdoor activities, including walking, hiking and getting out in the country. Additionally, Tallman with Parks and Rec says that the city is setting up a frisbee golf course for outdoor recreation. 

“It’ll be surrounding the softball field, that far harbor area,” Tallman said. “As long as people stay six feet apart, it can be a great individual sport”

The city’s COVID-19 social distancing health mandate currently lasts until May 22. The borough’s mandate is in effect through May 19.

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