POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Reopened trails, parks and boat ramps mark the first phase of a return to normalcy in Polk County.
On Friday, open air areas in Polk County and the city of Lakeland opened to visitors, the same day the county’s total COVID-19 cases hit 500.
“Being back in my old spot is kind of nice,” said Tommy Walker at the Lakeland Highlands Scrub. “This is the most cars I’ve seen here in a long time. It’s a quiet park but I think everyone’s ready to get out.”
“Wonderful weather and it’s nice to just get outside and get some fresh air and exercise,” said Tim Bradshaw, who was there with his daughter, Lily. “We’ve been social distancing, following the rules. I’m glad they reopened some select areas.
The county reopened trails, the Bone Valley ATV Park, athletic fields, and boat ramps. Campgrounds and community center computer labs will open on a limited basis.
“The intent is to allow the public to get back to some electronic access – whether it be for Census taking, whether it be for filing for unemployment, anything that they need to have to access to, we’re going to try to make those centers available,” said county manager Bill Beasley at board of county commissioners agenda review meeting Friday.
Signs have been posted at the sites reminding people to keep their distance.
Picnic areas and playgrounds remain closed.
Saddle Creek Gun Range and Circle B Bar Reserve will open next Friday.
“We have some trails with alligator nesting now so we need to be mindful of marking those trails. We have some signage we want to put up in and out of the center,” said Beasley. “The Discovery Center itself, the main activity there, is a very busy facility on an average day. We have to maintain some social distancing so we’re looking at some protocols to put in place.”
The city of Lakeland reopened several amenities Friday as well.
Beasley’s intent is to reopen county buildings, including the administration building, utility administration and roads and drainage administration, on May 11.
“We’re not going to mandate that the public wear masks to come visit us. We’re certainly gonna encourage that and we would encourage our staff to wear masks,” he said.
Polk County Clerk of Courts Stacy Butterfield said courts will remain closed.
The county plans to rely on self-policing and staff to enforce social distancing at all the sites.
“We’re not their mama. They’re going to do what they’re going do and if they’re not smart enough to obey what you ask them to do…the last thing we want to do is be the nanny police and bring in law enforcement,” said Bill Braswell, county board chair.
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