A complete return to normal – or like Peoria Park District Executive Director Emily Cahill put it, “whatever normal” – is expected in all parks in Peoria this summer as Illinois enters a post-COVID world.
With a few exceptions, residents of Peoria will be able to use Peoria’s Park District locations this summer, including the Peoria Playhouse Children’s Museum, much like they did in a pre-COVID context.
Only two establishments, the Gwynn Family Aquatic Center and the amphitheater at Glen Oak Park, will not open this summer.
However, the Park District will still ask those who are not vaccinated to wear a mask and socially distance themselves.
Cahill said that while Peoria’s parks will largely return to normal, the pandemic has forced the Park District to rethink its “programming philosophy.” It means a change in the types of events people will see in parks.
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“Thinking about not just having these big, large-scale events,” Cahill said was the biggest shift in mindset. “If you think of why the park district is famous, it’s for big community events. So we are not only trying to manage them, but also to think about bringing the programming to people.
One of the new programs designed to “bring programming to the public” is the A la carte parks, the Park District’s version of a traveling tap house.
Parks on Tap uses a 15-person van out of service, the Park District has been transformed into a mobile tap house to serve local beers. The van travels to a different neighborhood park each week, accompanied by live music, food and entertainment, with the aim of locating events in the park, with some control over crowd size.
“[It’s] go to neighborhood parks, so we serve a few hundred people at a time in those neighborhood parks, but we really engage in vibrant activities that make communities special, ”Cahill said.
Parks on Tap will be at Grand View Park Thursday and Friday from 4 p.m. to dusk.
The Peoria Playhouse Children’s Museum is also set to reopen this summer after it closed in March 2020 due to the pandemic. The reopening, which will take place gradually for the museum, is something Cahill highlighted as a point of joy for the Park District.
“For us, being on track to fully reopen this facility is something we’re very happy to do,” said Cahill. “Our little ones are only small for such a short time, so missing those 15 months to be able to play in the gambling den is something we are sad about, but our staff have done an absolutely amazing job providing virtual opportunities and play kits for children to play during the pandemic.
Gwynn Family Aquatic Center and Glen Oak Park Amphitheater remain closed
Two Peoria Park District must-sees, the Gwynn Family Aquatic Center and the Glen Oak Park Amphitheater, will not be included in plans to reopen the Park District this summer.
The Gwynn Family Aquatic Center will remain closed due to a shortage of lifeguards and the Glen Oak Park Amphitheater will be closed as the Park District “reinvent” its use. Only the amphitheater in Glen Oak Park will be closed, the rest of the park will be open for normal use.
Cahill said the aquatic center is still short of 12 to 15 lifeguards to open the facility “responsibly”. The pool of candidates for rescuers has been reduced in the wake of the pandemic, resulting in a shortage. Cahill said hiring lifeguards is “a tricky business.”
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“We just haven’t had a good response this year,” Cahill said. “It’s a constant struggle for us, I don’t think it’s new. It’s bigger than usual and part of it is that the lifeguard certification is two years and with the pandemic we are seeing fewer people who are skilled lifeguards interested in this job. ”
People could see physical changes in Glen Oak Park as early as the fall, Cahill said, as the Park District seeks to “reimagine” the use of parks and explore changes to “playground and open space” sites. .
The Peoria Municipal Band, which normally plays their summer concerts at the Glen Oak Park Amphitheater, will instead perform at Lakeview Park this summer due to the closure.
“We’ve seen the use of Glen Oak Park change over the past few years, we’ve seen this area become more and more densely populated,” Cahill said. “Thinking of it as a long-term concert hall just doesn’t make sense to us.”