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City parks get extra patrolling by police

Many facilities are open but limited by Thomas Saccente | April 13, 2020 at 3:27 a.m.

FORT SMITH -- The Police Department has increased patrols throughout the city parks system for the remainder of the virus outbreak.

A post on the department's Facebook page says it is vital to respect the health and safety of the city's most vulnerable now more than ever as the community works to "flatten the curve" and eliminate the threat of the coronavirus. The post urges residents to avoid congregating in groups of 10 or more and to avoid 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 its use, including temporarily removing basketball hoops.

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

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

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The extra patrols are designed to discourage people from gathering in close proximity and potentially spreading the coronavirus. Fort Smith, with a population of 87,845, is the state's second-largest city.

Last month, Gov. Asa Hutchinson issued a directive prohibiting groups of 10 or more people.

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

Little Rock, which has about 193,524 residents, set up traffic-control barrels at two popular trails and is increasing its police presence at city parks. 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 -- which draws tourist traffic from outside Arkansas -- until further notice.

Burns Park in North Little Rock remains open because the 1,700-acre park is too large to monitor, officials have said. The park's restrooms and playgrounds are closed, but the golf course and tennis courts are open. The city is limiting large groups, and workers are trying to assign one person per golf cart, said Jeff Caplinger, projects coordinator for the city Parks and Recreation Department.

One person at a time is allowed into the clubhouse to pay a greens fee or check in after reserving a tennis court, he said. The park's two disc golf areas also 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.

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