Kevin Norrie blows leaves off of green on hole one at Meadow Lakes Golf Club in Whitehorse on May 4. The course is set to open May 15. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Looking ahead to a different kind of summer

Recreation plans change for many

The sun is out, the snow has melted, but for now the outdoor soccer shoes, softball gloves and other equipment for any team sports may be collecting dust.

The changes that have come with COVID-19 mean the start of the summer season looks very different for many Yukoners.

The usual recreational activities that also provide a chance to get out and socialize and are popular through the season are suspended for now or have been completely cancelled.

Softball Yukon suspended activities until May 31 with an announcement about future plans expected before the end of the month. Sanctioned soccer activities are suspended until further notice. It’s been the same for hockey since mid-March and the list goes on.

So what recreational pursuits might residents be pursuing this year?

If you head down to the Millennium Trail on a given afternoon, it appears that running, walking and cycling top the list.

Local golf courses are also opening up, including plans for league play, with a long list of restrictions in place for that to happen.

Meanwhile, the City of Whitehorse is considering a phased approach to reopening the Canada Games Centre, a space that serves as a major centre for wide variety of recreational activities in Whitehorse. City parks and playgrounds remain open.

Sport rec leagues and weekend tournaments are typically a major part of many Yukoners’ summers along with camping; those options have been greatly reduced for now.

“It’s going to be pretty limited,” Patrick Jackson, owner of the Changing Gear shop, said in a May 4 interview.

The outdoor gear and sporting good consignment shop is taking a big hit in light of COVID-19. In addition to selling the sports gear many local residents might purchase for their weekly sports activities, the store also rents outdoor gear to many tourists exploring the territory.

The store opened its doors again May 1 after being physically closed (though with some availability online or by phone) for a few weeks due to COVID-19.

In many ways, Jackson said, his business is fortunate that local sales are part of the business, though the goal at this point has become “just to get through the summer,” taking things day to day.

He’s expecting cycling, paddling and hiking — those individual pursuits that naturally provide for physical distancing — will be among the more popular activities of the 2020 summer season.

He also expects fishing, already a staple for many through the Yukon summer, will happen that much more for many, though with recommendations Yukoners don’t travel outside their communities it will limit where people are able to fish. And if campgrounds remain closed, that will likely also impact where Yukoners are fishing and recreating this season.

While Jackson is now faced with a very different season than expected or that he could prepare for, he noted he and other business owners in the territory are fortunate that funding programs are being made available through the Yukon and federal governments and that those programs have been set up quickly.

Golf courses remain one of those few recreational sites that have or are set to open around the same time of year they normally would.

Mountain View Golf Course was set to open its temporary tees and greens May 8 after opening its driving range a week earlier with Meadow Lakes Golf Club set to open May 15.

Both have a long list of restrictions in place that have been reviewed and approved by the office of the chief medical officer of health and are following government guidelines. The distance between tees and strict four-person limits per party makes physical distancing possible.

Officials at each golf course say golfers are pleased the season — including league play due to the lower numbers that are on each tee — can start.

“They’re just so happy,” Johnny Enns, general manager of Meadow Lakes, said in a May 4 interview. “They’re pretty excited.”

A number of local golfers head to more southerly greens in April ahead of the Yukon golfing season opening, he said. They were unable to do that this year and are ready for the local season to begin.

Both he and Derek Wirth, Mountain View’s golf course superintendent, emphasized golfers will be expected to follow all of the regulations in place.

With golf as one of the few organized, social, recreational activities available, officials at both courses predict there may be a few more novices getting into the sport this year.

“We do anticipate some new golfer traffic if there are limited recreational activities available,” Wirth stated in a May 5 email.

Enns said he’s anticipating golfers who come out every couple of weeks or so may end up becoming more regular golfers.

“Time will tell,” he said.

While many get set to take to the local greens, youngsters are getting back to playgrounds and parks. Though playgrounds at territorial campgrounds are shut due to the campground closures, other playgrounds are open and being used.

City spokesperson Myles Dolphin said given current recommendations by health officials that outdoor recreation facilities can be open, the parks and community development department has placed signs at city playgrounds reminding users of the physical distancing recommendations from the territory’s Chief Medical Officer of Health.

At the same time, trails are also open to users with parks staff preparing for another season of trail maintenance.

“The City of Whitehorse has a very active population,” Dolphin wrote in a May 5 email, highlighting the “hundreds of kilometers (sic) of trails, allowing for plenty of space for people to safety recreate outdoors.”

At the same time, staff are also working with health officials to determine when indoor facilities like the CGC can reopen.

“(The) city is working closely with local health officials to determine what appropriate measures would be required to reopen,” Dolphin said. “The city is currently monitoring recreation centres in western Canada, and considering a phased approach to reopening the Canada Games Centre.”

It is not clear when that could begin happening and any limits on numbers permitted in the CGC or other facilities would depend on the recommendations of health officials.

”Programming may be modified to meet the recommendations of the local health officials,” Dolphin said.

He also pointed out there’s a number of online activities city staff are providing through the city website and through the Canada Games Centre’s social media pages.

Along with trails and playgrounds, a number of disc golfers have also been out to their outdoor locales enjoying their sport.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at stephanie.waddell@yukon-news.com

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