Jacksonville Council opts to reopen lake, parks to public use

by Cristin Parker cristin@thecherokeean.com

The city of Jacksonville announced Tuesday, May 19, the city parks facilities, as well as Lake Jacksonville, will reopen this week.

According to Jacksonville officials Lake Jacksonville will reopen to swimming and fishing tournaments and the beaches will reopen. Lake Jacksonville campgrounds will be open starting Friday, May 22.

All city parks and amenities have reopened, however the Buckner Park swimming pool opening date is to be determined. Staff is evaluating how to properly apply state guidelines for its safe reopening.

The Nichols Green Park splash pad will open at 7 a.m., Friday, May 22.

The state guidance allows youth sports to start practices June 1, and games on June 15.
“The city has been in constant communication with Jacksonville Baseball and Softball Association -- working together to allow youth sports to begin their season if the Association chooses to,” Jacksonville Communications Director Andrew Lugo said in a statement released Tuesday, May 19.

“With the decision to open these parks, the City asks all users to be vigilant about the COVID-19 threat, and to continue practicing social distancing when in public.

Lake Jacksonville had been closed to public use, including swimming, since May 7. Jacksonville City Council members discussed the closure during the regular council meeting held Tuesday, May 12.

“Safety is our first priority, and it was in the best interest of the public to temporarily close the Lake Jacksonville beach,” City Manager Greg Smith explained during the meeting on May 12.

Councilman Rob Gowin added, “Closing the Lake Jacksonville beach was a safety decision made by our Emergency Management Team. Had our lake goers been more responsible with social distancing and obeying the posted signs, placing barricades would not have been necessary.”

Councilman Jeff Smith said he felt that “the City Council should have been notified that temporary barricades were going to be placed on the Lake Jacksonville beach.”

Prior to the May 12 meeting, the city’s post on closing the lake’s beaches garnered 106 comments, 99 shares and 71 reactions, most of which questioned and/or disagreed with the city’s decision. Despite numerous posts in the comments by Shelby Thomas, -- who repeatedly shared the city’s post concerning the May 12 meeting and how to participate -- only one poster, Mike Killingsworth, actually made use of the opportunity to voice an opinion to council members.

“I just want to voice it here, formally at a Council meeting,” Killingsworth said during the meeting’s citizens comments. “As the state begins to relax and open up more facilities and services, the city kind of has seemingly gone in the other direction on closing the public beach area at the lake – one of the few summer, outdoor recreational areas we have in the area.”

He pointed out Abbott’s Executive Order GA-21 allows restaurants, museums, retail shopping establishments, cinemas and even swimming pools to open, with restrictions.

“Yet we’re closing a beach, an outdoor location that it’s very easy to social distance and use sound judgement,” he said. “In fact, I wanted to add I believe that most people don’t want to be near other people in bathing suits and bikinis in East Texas – but I’ll just leave that at that.

“We been given really no valid health-based evidence that I’ve heard, or reason for this action. The only reason that’s been given is that the city manager can close it at his discretion, because of a city ordinance was passed last year saying he could. … This seems to be a city ordinance that is really, seems to me, pretty obvious it is meant for some intrinsic or something that is happening at the lake that is possible a contaminant for the drinking water or something like that. I just can’t imagine that the spirit of this ordinance is meant for something like an external pandemic that really there’s no evidence or proof that can affect the drinking water – that it’s not just going to be killed by just common filtration and purification tactics that are used in all municipalities. Just want to say again, just please open the public beach – it’s a good outdoor area, the sunlight’s good, being outdoors is good. A lot of people use that.”

Council members took no action on the issue.

In other business, Councilman Gowin was sworn in at the beginning of the May 12 meeting, for another term as District 4 councilman. The city was able to cancel its May municipal election as Gowin had no opponent.

Also during the May 12 meeting, Mayor Randy Gorham read a proclamation thanking the late Karen Lovell, who passed away this April, for her years of service and volunteerism in the Jacksonville community. Lovell had been a longtime volunteer with the Jacksonville Chamber, the Jacksonville Citizen’s Police Academy and at Loves Lookout Park.

Items the Jacksonville Council approved during the May 12 meeting include:

• a four-year financing agreement for the purchase of sewer line inspection equipment from U.S. Bank at 1.87 percent;

• amendments to the fiscal-year 2020 budget;

• a resolution for financing of a police department video camera system and a city-wide data storage system, as requested by the lender, Government Capital; and

• the consent agenda which included minutes of the April 14 meeting and a workshop held May 7, the reappointment of Jorge Aragon to the ACCESS board and allowing upright monuments at Resthaven Cemetery.

This council meeting was the second to be live-streamed on the city’s YouTube channel. Officials have said the city will continue to live-stream these meetings.