Pictured: The multi-use trail at the Pat Kidney Sports Complex is open, but the basketball courts are off limits until further notice.

By Paul Augeri

MIDDLETOWN – As the closure of parks and playgrounds nears its fourth week, the city’s primary multi-purpose trails continue to see heavy use as the spring weather improves.

In a world of self-quarantine and limited options for recreation, the activity along the loop at the Pat Kidney Sports Complex and on the trail off of Westlake Drive has been a sight for sore eyes.

“People are walking, running, walking their dogs, pushing baby strollers,” public works director Bill Russo said. “And everyone I see is keeping their distance from each other.”

Connecticut has a current ban on gatherings of more than five people. According to the latest data released Wednesday, Middletown has 56 recorded positives cases of coronavirus among 291 tests given to city residents.

“We haven’t had to police (the spaces),” Russo said. “The closure went out (on March 16) and the public has been great with it. I really want to compliment the residents, from what I see in my perspective, they are listening to health professionals and the governor. It’s the best we can do right now.”

While ballfields and basketball and tennis courts are locked tight, Crystal Lake is open so long as social distancing rules are followed. People have been fishing and kayaking, and the wooded trails are another option to walkers and hikers. The park stays open until dusk.

Parks and playgrounds are closed until further notice, as are most city buildings. However, public works crews are preparing as if town fields will be used in the months to come.

“We are still working and prepping, still hoping that we will see sports in late summer,” he said. “We all need sports, from kids all the way up to adults. We are just hoping, but now we concentrate on shifting everything towards health.”

Middletown’s four high schools – MHS, Mercy, Xavier and Vinal Tech — are closed at least through May 4. The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, which governs high school sports in the state, has not made a final decision of whether the spring season, or a portion of it, will be played.

The city has hosted the CIAC baseball championships at Palmer Field for several years. The 2020 finals are scheduled for June 12-13. Palmer Field underwent a major renovation two years ago and the lighting system was upgraded last month at a cost of nearly $1 million.

“We’re hoping to get to use them this summer,” said Russo, who hopes a simulated game in some form is organized for a test of the lighting system.

The CIAC tennis singles championships are scheduled for early June on the courts at Wesleyan.

And Little League International has delayed all activities through May 11. Middletown’s youth baseball and softball teams generally have their opening-day festivities on the final weekend of April.

“It’s a sad time for the sports part of the world,” Russo said. He added, “I think we’ll be told to open things up as quickly as we had to shut them down,” Russo said, “but I don’t think anybody knows the answer to when that will be.”

Middletown Mayor Ben Florsheim on Wednesday said a man in his 90s died at Middlesex Hospital from COVID-19 complications, the first such death of a city resident.

“While we have made great strides in implementing social distancing practices and curbing the spread of COVID-19, the fact of the matter is that the worst is yet to come,” Florsheim said in a statement. “Our health tomorrow is dependent on our actions today, and now is the time to double down on all that we have been doing to keep Middletown safe.”

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