The Hartford region is filled with dozens of parks and acres of parklands—providing ample opportunity for recreational activity and, usually, social interaction. With quarantining and social distancing measures in effect, our community is visiting parks more than ever, exploring, exercising, and enjoying the respite.
In recognition of July being National Park and Recreation month, MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price checked in with Michael Zaleski, President & CEO Riverfront Recapture, Inc. to learn more about staying safe in our parks this season.
NAN PRICE: What do you enjoy most about your job?
MICHAEL ZALESKI: The thing I enjoy most about my job right now is seeing how many people are finding a little bit of calm and sanity in our clean and safe parks. We’re proud of the fact that our parks serve the region. We have four parks, three on the Hartford side of the Connecticut River and one on the East Hartford side. More than 800,000 people visited our park system in 2019, whether it was for a public event or to partake in a host of different programs and activities we typically offer. The Riverfront Park system is a regional asset and one that we believe provides quality of life for people in the Greater Hartford area.
NAN: How have our regional parks been meeting people’s needs during this pandemic?
MIKE: We’re thrilled that our Riverfront Park system is more popular than ever before. It serves as an essential resource for people to get out into the environment and enjoy recreation. Our trails and our riverwalk have been filled with people over the past three months during this pandemic.
Our parks are popular for city residents and suburban residents alike. And, the Riverfront Park system is used for so many different things—our hiking trails and riverwalks enable people to explore both sides of the Connecticut River and get some exercise, whether they’re walking, running, roller blading, or bike riding. We also have boat launches in three of our four parks that have been very active over the last few weeks.
Similar to state parks, on the weekend, our parks can be at capacity by early afternoon. We’re doing everything we can to encourage safe use of our parks. Social distancing is imperative. Unfortunately, we had the to limit some of the public amenities we usually offer. But, as the phased reopening allows it, we’ve started to make adjustments.
For instance, Governor Lamont’s recent executive order allows for up to 25 people to gather outside, so we brought back our picnic tables and we’re excited about some of the other park amenities we’re going to be bringing back later in the summer.
I’m disappointed that we haven’t been able to offer any of our public programming. Our fitness programs, free yoga, and our Riverfront Adventure hands-on training program have been suspended. Since a lot of that programming involves gathering people, we’re not sure exactly when that it will be coming back.
A bright spot for us is our riverfront rowing program will be returning in late June with classes for single rowers. We’re taking advantage of the fact that we can put single rowers out on the water and start to enroll a couple of new programs as we’re adapting to the situation. We’ve evolved to ensure that we can provide some of our usual services, just in a different way.
NAN: That’s definitely a bright spot. Any other good news to share?
MIKE: Riverfront Recapture is excited to be working on a new project to extend the multimodal Riverwalk trail from Hartford to Windsor. In the fall, Riverfront Recapture was fortunate to purchase about 60 acres of riverfront property, which was a key piece to enabling this project to move forward. It will ultimately connect Riverside Park with the Windsor Meadows State Park and give people an opportunity to get out and explore some trails north of the boathouse.
NAN: There are obviously a lot of unknowns, but what does reopening look like in terms of events?
MIKE: Public events have a significant challenge. It’s not possible to gather thousands of people right now. So, sadly, some of our most popular events like the Riverfront Dragon Boat & Asian Festival, the Taste of the Caribbean & Jerk Festival, and the Riverfront Food Truck Festival aren’t going to happen in 2020.
Many people consider these public events be traditions they look forward to every year. That’s one thing that I’m very proud of: The Riverfront Park system serves as a gathering place for families and people who enjoy coming to our events. So, we’re looking forward to bringing them back as soon as it’s safely possible.
Learn more about Riverfront Recapture, Inc.
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