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Imagine Farmville — Future of recreation

This edition of Imagine Farmville delves into the topic of how the coronavirus has affected recreation in the area, and the surge of popularity in outdoor activities that has occurred as a result.

OPPORTUNITIES TO RECONNECT WITH NATURE

Parks and recreation go hand in hand, and it would seem the age of coronavirus has motivated many Farmville residents and area visitors to seek safe and socially distant activities in the form of spending time outdoors at nearby state parks.

Although the local parks have always attracted visitors for both their scenery and recreational opportunities, many park managers reported seeing especially high numbers of guests during Memorial Day weekend and even throughout the pandemic.

Daniel Jordan, park manager at High Bridge Trail State Park in Farmville, said the trail was busier this year compared to the same time last year, which he said may be attributed to Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s temporary closures of other popular spots like swimming pools and gyms.

He added that although the park has always been popular, High Bridge Trail was able to serve a special role during the pandemic as a resource of essential health and wellbeing through outdoor recreation. Jordan said the park was lucky to be able to be there for the community during the crisis.

“Our hope is that we provide people with opportunities to reconnect with nature, to history and to the outdoors,” Jordan said.

He highlighted that the park has seen many new faces during the pandemic and has experienced new trail users that may be finding some first-time motivation to come out and enjoy what the trail has to offer.

Jordan’s hope is that the increase in outdoor recreation during the shutdown may have caused many to be “bitten by the outdoor bug,” including young children. He sees those children as ambassadors that inspire the responsible use of state parks and the participation of outdoor activities in future generations to come.

Jordan added that bikes for trail riding have been an especially hot commodity during the pandemic, with most bike stores in the area sold out of their stock.

A DEEPER CONNECTION WITH FAMILY AND FRIENDS

“Bike sales are the highest I’ve ever seen them,” Mark Smith, owner of The Outdoor Adventure Store in Farmville said Tuesday, June 2. “We’ve sold out of pretty much every bike that we have.”

Smith said bikes are definitely a highly sought-after item in the time of coronavirus, although part of the demand is due to kinks in the supply chain. The virus temporarily closed factories that produce bicycles, halting the ability of outdoor stores to get products on the floor.

He added that although that side of the business involving bike sales, rentals and repairs had been doing well, other outdoor shop owners in the tourism industry have been suffering. He referenced the long closures of beaches across Virginia and the U.S., stating that many friends, family and other business owners had experienced severe difficulties when having to stay closed during their peak seasons.

Smith is also the owner of Sandy River Outdoor Adventures in Rice, the first adventure park built in the state of Virginia. Featuring glamping tipis, log cabins, kayak, paddle board and canoe rentals as well as a variety of ziplines and aerial obstacle courses, the adventure park has been a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts from all over for years.

Smith said the park saw nothing but cancellations for numerous weeks during the pandemic, but in the last four weeks, he said, guests have returned to the location to enjoy a retreat from everyday life.

Sandy River Outdoor Adventures’ properties, Smith said, are being treated with ultraviolet light and all receive thorough cleanings in order to mitigate risk of the coronavirus and protect the safety of guests. The facility is only allowing eight climbers in the trees at this time and is allowing for proper distance between each visitor. In addition, staff at the park are wearing face masks and gloves.

Smith said The Outdoor Adventure Store has set up a table outside of the store to allow visitors without a mask to rent and purchase equipment, although customers must wear a mask in order to physically enter the business.

Smith said he was extremely thankful for the county’s help in making his businesses possible. He was optimistic that outdoor recreation will continue to rise in popularity even after the community begins to recover from the effects of the global health crisis.

“It’s definitely bringing a deeper connection with family and friends and doing things that are closer to our Mother Earth.” 

RETURN TO THE GYM

On Tuesday, June 2, Northam announced guidelines for Phase 2 of Virginia’s reopening process, including lifting some restrictions on recreational facilities such as gyms. According to Executive Order 65, gyms will be able to offer the use of their indoor facilities at 30% capacity beginning as early as Friday, June 5, the tentative start date for Phase 2.

That’s big news for many, especially Tyler Ramsey.

Ramsey was set to open up Elite Fitness 24/7 in Farmville June 1. The gym was to be the second location of his successful Elite Fitness gym in Appomattox. However, the facility’s grand opening was delayed due to government restrictions to mitigate the pandemic.

On Wednesday, Ramsey said Northam’s guidelines meant Elite Fitness 24/7 now has a tentative opening date of June 15 at 9 a.m. Visitors should be able to sign up, get a membership and work out on the first day of opening.

He said the business will be working with the Town of Farmville to determine the maximum occupancy of the new gym, to be located at 905 S. Main Street. After determining 30% of the building’s occupancy, the limit of guests will be posted at the gym.

He added cleaning supplies and sanitization products will be ready to go.

Ramsey was aware there may be concern from some members of the public regarding returning to gyms in a post-COVID-19 world.

“You’re going to have people that are scared to come, but you’re also going to have people who realize, ‘Hey, being healthier may help me prevent catching COVID-19 in the future, and if I do catch COVID-19 in the future, (I’ll be) able to handle it a little bit better due to being a little more healthy.’”

He said that the health crisis may serve as a reminder to residents that their health and ability to fight off illness is a priority.

The Southside Virginia Family YMCA in Farmville took up the opportunity to provide outdoor classes to the public during Phase 1 of the state’s reopening, including outdoor Zumba, body pump, yoga, cardio boxing and other classes.

Online, community members had mixed opinions on returning to gyms in the near future.

“I 100% will return to the gym when it opens,” Michael Clay wrote on Facebook Wednesday afternoon. “Not having the ability to work out in a true gym has taken a toll not only to my body, but also to my mental health.”

Stacy Dewberry said she would not be returning to the gym any time soon. “I think a second round (of the coronavirus) is coming, and I wouldn’t trust it yet.”

“I want to get back to the dance studio,” wrote Robin Brostovski.

ACTIVITIES ENJOYED PRE-PANDEMIC

Naidy Perez, interim director of recreation at the Farmville Recreation Department, said the pandemic effectively canceled all recreation programs and events in town for several months. Activities like pickleball, seasonal softball, basketball, summer camps, the town’s 5K and 10K runs and the Heart of Virginia Festival were all postponed or canceled due to the threat of the novel coronavirus.

Perez said she was hopeful the town would see more opportunities for recreation in the coming months, especially with relaxed regulation by Northam for Phase 2 increasing the limit of gatherings from 10 people or less to 50 or less. She hoped indoor recreational activities would be able to return slowly, starting with smaller hobbies like pickleball.

She said while the department would like to see residents able to partake in popular activities enjoyed pre-pandemic, the near future would consist of rolling with the punches and playing it by ear. She emphasized the health and safety of the community is a priority.

Perez said in the meantime, outside activities such as outdoor gym classes, bike rides, trail hiking, and fishing have provided a great opportunity for individuals to still stay active and enjoy themselves while respecting social distancing.