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Norwalk Recreation and Parks Department ‘cautiously’ plans for spring/summer events

The Norwalk Recreation and Parks Committee meets, Feb. 10 on Zoom.

NORWALK, Conn. — With COVID-19 cases declining across the state and warmer weather on the horizon, the Norwalk Recreation and Parks Department and Common Council are approving events for the upcoming months, albeit with asterisks and precautions.

“If the infection rates continue to decrease and the state’s guidelines are lifted, we do hope to bring back some of the events which residents have come to enjoy each summer including concerts, movie nights, and even the July 4th Fireworks show,” Director of Recreation and Parks Nick Roberts said. “We may have to tweak each of these to remain with the approved capacity level, but we are cautiously optimistic that we can resume some of our traditional programming for the community.”

Roberts said that the Council’s Recreation, Parks, and Cultural Affairs Committee began approving events in January for the upcoming spring and summer months. All organizers are told that they must “follow the state’s recommendations on public events,” which includes having staff, volunteers, and attendees follow public health guidelines such as “adhering to capacity restrictions, social distance where possible, and maintain the use of face masks where applicable.”

The Committee has been approving events on a “case-by-case” basis, beginning with the larger annual events that have partnerships and prior relationships with the City, and then moving to more individual events. In January, the Committee approved: the Memorial Day Parade on Monday, May 31, the veterans’ remembrance event at the Shea McGrath Memorial on Sunday, May 16, and the Oyster Festival from Friday, Sept. 10 to Sunday, Sept. 12.

In February, the Committee approved the use of Calf Pasture Beach for the Norwalk Karting Association’s use on certain dates during the spring and fall seasons, and the annual Dog Show on Saturday, June 12.

“One of the things that we need to be mindful of is the pandemic is here and there’s still so many things that are unknown, and so we are going through this process with the hopes that things will slowly improve — fingers, toes, and everything crossed,” said Council member Darlene Young (D-District B), chair of the Committee, at the January meeting.

Some groups, such as the Greenwich Kennel Club and Longshore Southport Kennel Club, which run the dog show, have already made accommodations to make their events smaller this year due to COVID.

“Normally, we have over 290, basically 300 breeds of dogs,” said Joy Brewster, who works with the clubs to put on and judge the shows. “This year, there will only be seven breeds each day. So, 14 – a total of 14 over the two days. It’s drastically cut down. We, at this point, are not including spectators. I mean, if everything opens up, we’re still not going to be doing, massive marketing or anything like that. The safety of the exhibitors, the judges, and the dogs, are paramount and we certainly understand that we’re under the jurisdiction of the city of Norwalk as well as the state.”

Others said they are hoping and keeping an eye on restrictions.

“Hope is a four letter, but I hope that we can pull off this (Memorial Day) parade,” said Jeff DeWitt, chair of the city’s Veteran’s Affairs Committee at the January meeting. “It’s a template that’s been used for years and years.”

Mike Reilly, president of the Norwalk Seaport Association, said they’re planning to follow all guidelines to have the Oyster Festival safely.

“We’re hoping and thinking positively that we’ll be able to do this,” he said at the Committee’s January meeting. “It’s a critical fundraising event for the Norwalk Seaport Association as you know. We’re hoping we can do this. Not doing it last year is tough for us, but we’re hoping and obviously we’ll go by all the guidelines, CDC guidelines and everything else.”

Gerald “Jerry” Toni, the business manager of the Seaport Association, said that they’ll be discussing what the event looks like as a Board, as it gets closer and they have to start paying larger deposits.

“We have to be very careful as we proceed closer,” he said. “We will be meeting with our key vendors (this) spring season, to get an understanding of what worst case restrictions will be. It’s a gamble that we’ll have to fully assess at the Board level.”

Roberts said all organizers are read this statement before anything gets approved: “the City of Norwalk reserves the right to cancel any event for public health or safety reasons as determined in its sole discretion. The City of Norwalk will also not be liable for damages arising from the cancellation of the event.”

City staff are working closely with the event organizers to alert them to any changes that arise and to make sure protocols are followed, Roberts said.

“Staff will be working with event organizers to ensure compliance for sure,” he said. “We will be conducting additional spot checks during events, enhanced cleaning of facilities will be done, and signage will be posted to remind attendees of safe practices.”

The latest news from the Governor’s office was that indoor events could have up to 100 people and outdoor events could have up to 200 people, beginning March 19.

Roberts said as the warmer weather gets closer, he and his staff will be working to strike that difficult balance between keeping people safe and providing events and activities that they enjoy as things move toward “more normal.”

“This has been one of the hardest things to do during the entire COVID outbreak,” he said. “Fortunately, most people have adjusted to the COVID protocols, which play a key role in preventing and slowing the spread of the virus. As long as we continue to wear a face mask, practice social distancing, and practice proper hygiene, we can resume most of (the) activities. And, as vaccination efforts continue and infection rates decrease, we will be able to get back to some sort of normality soon.

For event organizers who are looking for more information, Roberts said they can email [email protected] or call Erin Herring at 203-854-7289.

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