When COVID-19 set in, we went outside to play.
As many other attractions shut down, several Winnipeg parks became major destinations for city-dwellers last year.
In 2020, the combined number of times visitors went through select regional park gates surged 51 per cent compared with the previous year. That figure includes Crescent Drive, Kilcona, Maple Grove, Kildonan, St. Vital, Kings, and La Barriere parks, which have counters in place.
La Barriere Park was especially popular, with a 90 per cent jump.
"We think that COVID has played a key role in that. People want to get out, they want to connect with nature, they want to go for a walk, they want to socialize with people that they aren’t normally able to socialize with," said Dave Domke, the city’s manager of parks and open space. "We were definitely seeing people, even in the cold weather, really utilizing the city parks as best they could."
Domke noted the counters track the number of times someone passes through a park gate, data the city has collected at select regional parks since about 2018.
He said the city did expect a 30 per cent hike in that number in 2020, since public health experts repeatedly advised people to get outdoors for safe, physically distanced exercise.
Domke said he now expects some increase in park use may persist long after public health restrictions ease up.
"I think COVID’s reminded us of the importance of being outside… It’s become part of (our) lifestyles and, hopefully, that will carry on," he said.
Domke said the increase in park popularity hasn’t resulted in a significant surge in vandalism or damage to equipment.
He believes the massive hike in visits to La Barriere park is because it’s close to Waverley West, a large and growing community.
The numbers confirm a trend noticed by at least one city councillor last year.
In November, Coun. Janice Lukes (Waverley West) said she’d witnessed a "phenomenal increase" in park use.
Lukes said that demand comes with a heightened need for visitors to pick up after themselves.
"I’m ecstatic that people are using our parks more and discovering them… We just have to be responsible," said Lukes.
The councillor urges all Winnipeggers to take their garbage with them when they leave a park and always pick up pet waste.
"They need to pick up the poo. It’s a health problem when there’s more people than ever using our parks," she said.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.