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FORT SMITH -- The Police Department said Wednesday that it will increase patrols throughout the city parks system for the remainder of the virus outbreak.

A post on the department's Facebook page states that it is vital to respect the health and safety of the city's most vulnerable now more than ever as work is being done to "flatten the curve" and eliminate the threat of the coronavirus. The post urges residents to avoid congregating in groups of 10 people or more and to avoid participation in group sports.

The post also reminds residents that public playground equipment remains off limits until further notice. Parks employees will be doing what they can to curtail these activities, including temporarily removing basketball hoops.

"Please respect the guidelines and use caution when going out in public," the post states. "Thank you to our residents for rising to this unprecedented challenge. We got this!"

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Aric Mitchell, spokesman for the Police Department, said Wednesday that city parks remain open.

But the extra patrols are designed to discourage and prevent too many people from gathering in close proximity in the parks and potentially spreading covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Last month, Gov. Asa Hutchinson issued a directive prohibiting groups of 10 or more people. Fort Smith, which according to the U.S. census has an estimated population of more than 87,840 residents, is the state's second-largest city.

Police in other parts of Arkansas, particularly in the larger cities, are also sweeping through parks.

Little Rock, which has an estimated 193,524 residents, set up traffic-control barrels at two popular trails and is increasing its police presence at city parks.

On Wednesday, the Little Rock Parks and Recreation Department said it will close three park areas this Easter weekend: Barton Park, Remmel Park and the pavilion and sand volleyball areas at Murray Park. They will be closed Friday through Sunday, reopening on Monday. Officials said the parks have had crowds, creating conditions conducive to virus transmission.

More mounted patrol officers and Community Oriented Police Program officers have been visible in Little Rock lately. City workers have taped off much of the parks' equipment, including basketball goals, volleyball nets and slides.

Officials in North Little Rock, which has a population of 67,122, closed its popular Old Mill until further notice. The Old Mill draws tourist traffic from outside Arkansas.

Burns Park in North Little Rock remains open for the time being because the 1,700-acre park is too large to monitor those who enter the area, officials have said.

Restrooms and playgrounds are closed at Burns Park, but the golf course and tennis courts remain open. The city is limiting large groups.Workers are trying to assign one person per golf cart, said Jeff Caplinger, projects coordinator for the city Parks and Recreation Department.

One person -- not a group -- is allowed to go into the clubhouse to pay a greens fee or check in after reserving a tennis court, he said. Also, the park's two disc golf areas remain open, but Caplinger said the parks department recommends groups of four or fewer people.

Information for this article was contributed by Rachel Herzog and Stephen Simpson of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

State Desk on 04/09/2020

Print Headline: Fort Smith increases patrols in parks to limit gatherings


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