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A Pickleball Bust? Kansas City Area Parks Are (Nicely) Trying To Enforce Social Distancing

Courtesy of Leigh Ann Cleaver
This Wednesday afternoon encounter between police and pickleball players was amicable and described as "perfectly nice."

On Wednesday, the first really gorgeous spring afternoon of the year, a couple dozen people were playing pickleball at Meadowbrook Park at 91st and Nall in Johnson County, Kansas.

That was until two Prairie Village police officers showed up to tell the players they were violating the emergency order limiting gatherings to no more than ten people. 

It wasn’t quite a bust but the officers came armed with copies of the emergency order issued by the county health department last Saturday.

The officers said while the order is enforceable, they were there to “educate” people.

One player described the officers as “perfectly nice.”

When asked if they were driving around looking for gatherings of more than ten people, the officers said no, someone called in the pickleball game.

With many people home from work, Johnson County parks are busy.

“Our parks are just packed,” said Parks and Recreation District spokesman Richard Smalley. “There is a steady stream of people using the disc golf course” at Shawnee Mission Park.

By Thursday morning, the county parks department has posted “closed” signs at playgrounds at Meadowbrook Park and other recreation areas.

Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Prairie Village public works put up signs and caution tape to close the playground at Franklin Park at Somerset Drive and Roe Avenue on Thursday.

“Unfortunately, people are ignoring those signs and letting their children play together,” Smalley said.

Turns out Johnson County parks aren’t the only ones that have been busy.

There’s been a lot of chatter on Twitter about large crowds at Loose Park, including at the playground and tennis courts. Others observed that the new Hodge Park playground was packed Wednesday despite a shelter-at-home order for Kansas City through April 24.

The Kansas City Parks Department, @KCMOParks, tweeted Thursday that it would be posting new signage Thursday or Friday warning people that “Playgrounds and Courts are Closed.”

Kansas City parks and trails remain open, but people are urged to maintain a safe social distance and wash their hands after visiting any parks.

The Kansas City Health Department has urged people to continue exercising and walking their dogs, but use of playgrounds is currently considered unsafe and unhealthy.

On Thursday, Prairie Village Police Chief Tim Schwartzkopf confirmed that the department got a call for service at the pickleball court and that is why they showed up.

"That is generally how we get these types of reports," he said.

But Schwartzkopf said his officers are prepared with the "multiple" county emergency order to hand out.

Right now, police just want to educate people about safe distancing and so far, they haven't had any problems.

"We're asking for voluntary cooperation," Schwartzkopf said.

Sam Zeff is KCUR's Metro Reporter. Follow him on Twitter @SamZeff.

Lynn Horsley is a freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter @LynnHorsley.

You deserve to know what your taxpayer dollars are paying for and what public officials are doing on your behalf – I’ll work to report on irresponsible government spending in the Kansas City area and shed light on controversies that slow government down. And when you hear my voice in the morning, you know you’re getting everything you need to start your day. Email me at sam@kcur.org, find me on Twitter @samzeff or call me at 816-235-5004.
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