Promising Practice: Management of outdoor recreation and active travel spaces during COVID-19: A guidance document for Timiskaming district

What you need to know

To address the COVID-19 pandemic, Timiskaming Health Unit developed an evidence brief to support municipalities in the Timiskaming district with decision-making related to safe use of outdoor recreation and active travel spaces. The evidence brief contains examples of best practices for the use of signage in outdoor recreation spaces such as parks, trails and walkways to keep spaces safe and open, while maintaining provincial guidelines during COVID-19.

 

Download the PDF or read the Promising Practice below. 

The problem

In early March to April of this year, many parks and recreation spaces were immediately closed to align with provincial public health measures and guidelines to reduce the spread of COVID-19. People living in the Timiskaming district were no longer able to access park spaces, trails and walkways. Municipalities were responsible to make decisions about management of outdoor recreation and active travel spaces during COVID-19.

The evidence brief outlines the importance of accessing outdoor green spaces and how this contributes to better mental health and well-being, especially for vulnerable population groups such as low-income families, minority and ethnic groups, children and adolescents, and older adults.1 According to evidence, these groups have better health outcomes when they have access to and spend time in open spaces.1 For the municipalities in the Timiskaming district, it was important to find a balance between managing the risk of spread of COVID-19 and maintaining and creating safer access to outdoor recreation and active travel spaces.

The promising practice

The evidence brief was developed to respond to the needs of the municipalities and to show the value in considering opening spaces that were closed due to COVID-19. It helped municipalities understand that opening some of their recreational areas, washrooms and trails that was important because opening these spaces placed value on the mental health and well-being for those in the community. This document’s aim was to support 22 municipalities in the Timiskaming district with decision-making. During this time the document was valuable in helping to enhance COVID-safe outdoor environments.

How it works

The evidence brief described the important role that outdoor recreational spaces provide for health and summarized guidance related to risk reduction/infection prevention in these spaces as well as municipal sidewalks and roadways. The brief also provided a variety of examples of signage and best practices from other communities across Ontario and showed how this could be implemented in other communities and municipalities. In the Timiskaming district, the evidence brief was sent to 21 municipalities across the district:

  • City of Temiskaming Shores
  • Town of Englehart
  • Town of Cobalt
  • Town of KL
  • Town of Latchford
  • Township of Armstrong
  • Township of Brethour
  • Township of Casey/Harley/Kerns/Hudson
  • Township of Chamberlain
  • Township of Coleman
  • Township of Evanturel
  • Township of Gauthier
  • Township of Harris
  • Township of Hilliard
  • Township of James
  • Township of Larder Lake
  • Township of Matachewan
  • Township of McGarry
  • Township of Temagami
  • Township of Charlton & Dack
  • Village of Thornloe

The brief was well received by municipalities and prompted an interest in COVID-19 signage from many municipalities. In particular, the City of Temiskaming Shores requested Public Health’s help in developing signage that matched the signs in the City of Waterloo. The COVID-19 signage from the City of Waterloo was used as a base model and was simplified and modified to include both French and English text for the district. Once the COVID-19 safety signs were developed, Public Health sent email communications to all of the municipalities. This signage was developed by the Timiskaming Health Unit (PDF).

Many of the municipalities requested similar signs, and 104 signs were distributed to nine municipalities in May and June. The breakdown of the number of signs sent to each municipality is presented below:

  • Township of Mcgarry, Virgniatown: 8
  • Township of James: 12
  • Township of Armstrong: 10  
  • Village of Thornloe: 2  
  • Township of Gauthier: 2
  • Town of Cobalt: 8
  • City of Temiskaming Shores: 40
  • Town of Kirkland Lake: 12
  • Town of Englehart: 10

The COVID-19 safety signs were free for municipalities and were funded by Public Health. Requests for the signs were also made by outdoor businesses across the Timiskaming district from the Health Unit. Due to the limited funding for signage, access to electronic links to a PDF file of the COVID-19 safety signs was provided to all organizations through Timiskaming Health Unit website.

Why this initiative is promising

This evidence brief provides examples of the use of signage in communities across Ontario. Its recommendations have the potential to be used in other communities and organizations. This brief can be used in other municipalities and can help organizations support communities in implementing evidence that has shown to be effective in other areas across Ontario.

Municipalities were faced with challenging decisions regarding what areas to keep open and what to close while maintaining provincial and public health guidance. The evidence in this brief supported municipalities in finding a balance between valuing the physical and mental health of residents, and they were able to make an informed decision. It is important to note that having developed trusting relationships with the municipalities allowed municipalities to openly accept the evidence that was described in the brief. Including other examples of what other communities had done to address this particular situation helped to spark municipal interest in developing public communications and signage and to start a conversation about how to put the evidence outlined in the brief into action.

About the researchers

Janet Smale, Research, Planning and Policy Analyst

Susan Hall, Public Health Promoter

Crystal Gorman, Public Health Promoter

Amanda Mongeon, Program Manager

Kerry Schubert-Mackey, Director

Acknowledgements

This knowledge exchange activity is supported by Evidence Exchange Network (EENet), which is part of the Provincial System Support Program at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health - “CAMH”). EENet has been made possible through a financial contribution from the Ministry of Health (“MOH”). The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the views of either MOH or of CAMH.

Further reading

  1. Evidence brief: Evidence and Promising Practices for Management of Outdoor Recreation and Active Travel Spaces during COVID-19: A guidance document for municipalities in Timiskaming