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Bay Roberts moves to shake off some of COVID-19’s restrictions

The Town of Bay Roberts is easing back into normality.

Friday, May 15 marked the re-opening of some town facilities in the face of a plethora of government-mandated closures across the province.

As COVID-19 made its way across Newfoundland and Labrador, municipalities were forced to close up just about every facility indefinitely in order to flatten the curve and hopefully stop the spread of the virus.

That was back in March, and now that the virus seems to be at something of a standstill in the province with only one new case in over a week, restrictions are slowly easing through a phase system designed by the province.

Currently at phase four of that system, municipalities are able to re-open some of their facilities that allow for minimal physical contact, and even some small businesses are able to re-open their doors.

Bay Roberts is among those that have taken the opportunity to re-open what it can, and Mayor Phillip Wood said that although it’s a small step, it is at least indicative of progress being made by Newfoundlanders in slowing the spread of the virus.

He said the town’s trailways have been open for a little while, but even those have been laden with restrictions that changed the way people use them. Goose Pond Trail, and the Shoreline Heritage Trail have both been available to the public, but those who use them have to walk in a specific direction, while remaining as far away from others as possible.

“But, today (Friday, May 15) is actually the first day that we’ve opened up the community garden – the Shearstown gardens, as well as French’s Park in Coley’s Point,” Wood said.

In both cases, however, there are limited hours of access, and physical distancing protocols remain in place.

“Signage is all about with a variety of rules being put in place, and I’ve got to say that for the most part, residents have been very understanding and supportive,” said the mayor. “They know that this is a different, difficult time, and that we’re only doing what the task force is recommending for everyone’s safety.”

Meanwhile, playground equipment and sports facilities remain closed. Wood said the playgrounds have been equipped with fencing to make sure no one can break the rules easily.

The town’s recycling program, which had been on hold, is also being reinstated, and an area will be set up with limited hours for residents to drop off brush and leaves in the coming weeks.

“Slowly, but surely, we’re getting back to some kind of a new normal here,” Wood said. “But, like everything, I need to stress that there are limitations. There’s signage all about.”

In an effort to expand the means of spreading information to the town’s residents who were stuck to the confines of their home in the past couple months, the town has recently unveiled Radio Bay Roberts – an internet-based radio station that broadcasts within town borders. Wood says that alongside some good tunes, the station is an outlet for the town to send out messages and announcements, along with some added fun like trivia.

The province-wide restrictions have also seeped into the summer season, despite spring only just rearing its head. Many municipalities that host large-scale summer events have had to cancel them, or find another means of hosting them through online means, and Bay Roberts is no exception.

In the summertime, the community usually sees a variety of festivals and events that attract thousands into town. Among them are the Light the Lamp ball hockey tournament, Klondyke Days, and the Songs, Stages, and Seafood Festival. Most of these have been cancelled or postponed. Wood described the postponement of the 2020 Summer Games as one of the biggest blows the town is facing this coming summer.

“We were gearing up for that, and everyone was looking forward to it. The town is still very committed to having it, but of course some of our activities surrounding that particular event have been delayed,” he said. “For example, we were going to re-pave the tennis courts and that’s been postponed. We’re still going to be doing some upgrades to the Bay Arena, and our swimming pool, but as for activities at those facilities, it’s not looking too good.”

The closures are inevitably going to mean an economic hit for Bay Roberts and its neighbours. For instance, Light the Lamp is a popular ball hockey tournament that sees thousands gather from all over the province, and Wood said that without it, the local economy will not get the boost that it’s become used to over the years.

Hotels, bed and breakfasts, restaurants, and even gas stations all see significant increases in revenue on account of big events like Light the Lamp.

“We expect between 3,000 and 4,000 people for our Light the Lamp tournament. 1,500 ball hockey players, plus their parents, plus their grandparents, plus other relatives and people who just want to see the games,” said Wood. “Now, none. It’s a big blow to the area – and I don’t just mean Bay Roberts, it’s a big blow for the whole region.”

The Seafood Festival sold out a few months ago. Wood said that not all hope is lost for that one, as the Town has since announced a virtual version of the festival.

Each night of the festival will see a 50-minute show that will stream on Facebook, YouTube, and the Festival’s website. Each show will feature a guest chef, a guest musician and a segment from Powell’s Supermarket. 

It is not just the events that have had to come to a halt this summer, though. Wood explained the town has decided the pool closed for the remainder of the summer, as well as various summer programs. Not only does this mean a significant lack of activity in the town, but also a lack of employment for students. Wood said each summer the town usually sees between 30 and 40 students working under various grant programs.

“We may be trying to run some virtual summer programs through the internet, similar to what the schools have been doing,” he said. “We’re looking into it and working on it.”

Wood said he is hopeful that not all will be put to the wayside when it comes to the town’s summer activities.

“Everybody in the province is feeling the affects of this, no matter how big or small,” said the mayor. “Everybody seems to be doing their part in trying to alleviate some of the negatives, all while trying to be prepared for when we move on.”

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