Kyle Golob of the Auburn Public Works Department puts sand bags on the “Park Closed” sign on the basketball court at the Union Street Gully in Auburn on Friday. The city is temporarily closing some city parks, playgrounds, outdoor basketball courts and athletic fields because of the coronavirus. Neighbors said there were 30 children playing basketball on the court Thursday evening. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — As true spring weather arrives, more people have been getting outside. But in the era of COVID-19 and social distancing, some of the activity has been worrying city staff and elected officials.

On Friday, officials in Auburn decided to close a number of city parks, playgrounds, basketball courts, and athletic fields due to large groups of people using them in close proximity. Public Works staff scrambled to post closed signs at the facilities before the weekend, even removing basketball hoops from their backboards.

Across the river in Lewiston, officials had already closed the basketball courts and skatepark at Kennedy Park for the same reason, and on Friday afternoon, the city closed its tennis courts at the Franklin Pasture Complex after dozens of people were on site Thursday. The rest of the school district’s athletic fields had already been closed.

Both cities have been reassessing safety measures all week as Maine confronts the spread of COVID-19, and have continually urged residents to practice strict social distancing guidelines. With students and families mostly stuck at home, officials have been faced with the dilemma of whether to restrict recreational areas.

State officials Thursday announced the closure of 10 coastal state parks due to residents flocking to the areas.

Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque said Friday that city staff made the decision after observing a large number of children and young adults using playground equipment or coming in close contact at the sports facilities.

“I hope that Auburn residents of all ages continue to practice good social distancing and enjoy a more distanced approach to recreation,” he said. “Thankfully Auburn has an abundance of trails and opportunities that don’t encourage close-quarters activity.”

Bleau Rampino and her 5-year-old son, Decklin, fly their kite at Chestnut Street Park in Auburn on Friday. The field was not posted as closed yet, but would be soon. Kyle Golob of the Auburn Public Works Department said it would be a challenge to get all the parks posted and closed by Saturday morning. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

The list of closed areas in Auburn includes Bonney Park, the Chestnut Street soccer field, the Union Street Gully basketball courts, the playgrounds and ball fields at Pettengill Park, the Lake Grove Park (Municipal Beach) playground and basketball court, the Moulton Park skatepark, and more.

A city news release Friday said that “recent reports of large crowds using basketball courts and other group play in public spaces and on playgrounds has made it increasingly difficult to implement appropriate physical distancing.”

The release said Auburn has “aligned its decisions” with recommendations from the National Parks and Recreation Association, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, and the Department and Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, which closed the state parks Thursday.

Kyle Golob of Auburn Public Works was placing signs at the Union Street basketball court Friday, telling the Sun Journal that it would be a challenge to get all the parks posted closed by Saturday morning.

“The city of Auburn understands that our local parks, trails and open spaces serve as places where people can find respite and seek peace and restoration,” the release said. “During this time of uncertainty, these places are needed now more than ever. However, given the current circumstances surrounding COVID-19, we are faced with challenges on when and how residents can safely enjoy our parks, trails and open spaces.”

Auburn officials are also reminding residents that Mt. Apatite and the Auburn Riverwalk will remain open, while urging Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for social distancing.

In Lewiston, Public Works staff spent Friday posting new signs at entrances to all city parks.

The signs detail “instructions” for using municipal parks and open space during the “COVID-19 Public Health Emergency.”

Dot Perham-Whittier, community relations coordinator, said staff from the Parks & Recreation and Public Works departments teamed up on the notices.

Among other things, the signs suggest residents “communicate from a distance;” “walk, jog, or bike through a park;” or “enjoy sitting/reading on a park bench.”

The signs also say residents may not use balls and may not gather in groups or have close contact with other people.

On Thursday, Mayor Mark Cayer told the Sun Journal that a shelter-in-place order may be inevitable for Lewiston given signs of community spread elsewhere in Maine and continued examples of local residents not following social distancing guidelines.

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