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Outdoor Recreation Activities Still Encouraged Despite Closures

Playground equipment at Oglebay Park is barricaded by fencing to keep children away while emergency social distancing measures have been put in place as the COVID-19 pandemic crisis continues.

WHEELING — Social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t mean people should endure a self-imposed house arrest.

In fact, state and local officials encourage the public to get out and about while still adhering to guidelines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Gov. Jim Justice this week elevated the statewide pandemic response to a “stay-at-home” order, prohibiting residents from leaving the house for any non-essential business. However, outdoor recreation is an exception to the rule, as long as safety measures are taken.

Coinciding with the state public health recommendations, many parks and recreation facilities in the city of Wheeling were closed this week.

Nearly all of the parks and playgrounds operated by the city of Wheeling were closed until at least April 6, if not longer depending on the status of the pandemic. However, Wheeling Heritage Trail will remain open, and there are many other options for outdoor recreation in the city.

“There are plenty of ways to get out and still practice social distancing,” said Jesse Mestrovic, director of the Wheeling Parks and Recreation Department. “We want to encourage as much nature-based recreation as possible. We have 13 miles of the bike trail within the city limits, plus people can access Wheeling Creek. It’s stocked for trout fishing, and we encourage people with a fishing license to take advantage of that.”

Mestrovic said city residents are urged to stay healthy, eat healthy and get exercise during the crisis. Whether they take to the bike trails or city streets to walk the dog, go for a walk or a run, there are still many opportunities to do so.

There are 22 playgrounds and a total of 30 public spaces operated by the city’s parks and recreation department. Facilities that are “gathering places” or those that have equipment used by the public will remain closed. However, if a family wanted to get outside of the house, go to a park or ball field to fly a kite, they certainly will be able to do that, officials stressed.

“We just want people to follow the CDC guidelines when they are out,” Mestrovic said.

Recreational programming in the city also has been suspended until further notice. Mestrovic encouraged city residents to check the parks and recreation department’s social media pages for the latest updates on available recreational opportunities.

During breaks in the rain this week, many people could be seen walking dogs, taking walks and riding bikes in downtown Wheeling and on Wheeling Heritage Trail.

“I just needed to get out and about, and needed to get some exercise,” said Diana Mey of Wheeling, who was out riding her bike this week on the trail along the Ohio River. “Being stuck in the house all day, it seemed like all I was doing was eating.”

Many of the same public health measures are being taken at Oglebay and Wheeling parks. On Wednesday, Wheeling Park Commission President and CEO David Lindelow said that Oglebay and Wheeling parks are still open, but with scaled down operations. Visitors are welcome to walk the trails, play golf and enjoy the gardens as he has witnessed many doing in the past few days. All non-essential operations at the park have been shut down, however.

“We are complying with the mandates and have closed the spa, the restaurants and the Good Zoo now,” Lindelow said. “We are doing take-out food. Wilson Lodge and the cottages are still open and we have a minimum of guests right now.”

Lindelow said the parks have been “active” with people walking with their children and dogs. Golfers are still welcome with some restrictions.

The Hamm Clubhouse at Speidel is not operating other than to sign up golfers for tee times. No food is being sold at any of the parks’ golf courses.

Some shops at the park are operating on shorter hours to serve the lodging guests. Oglebay’s Route 88 BBQ & Brew opened on Wednesday, several weeks ahead of its regularly scheduled opening, with a new curbside carryout menu. The restaurant is open daily and accepting curbside carryout orders from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The playground located adjacent to Schenk Lake has been closed, The play equipment is wrapped in plastic fencing to prevent anyone from using it.

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