People flocked to enjoy outdoor recreation over the May long weekend as the province reopened facilities for golf, tennis and more May 22.

Outdoor recreational areas had been closed since April 17 as part of a lockdown in response to COVID-19 trends. This included golf courses, tennis courts, basketball courts, skateboarding parks and sports fields. Those facilities are now open, but physical distancing is still required, with limits of five people gathering outdoors.

James Smith visited the Haliburton tennis courts to play with his brother May 24. He said he was waiting a long time to enjoy the facility.

“It’s just nice to be outside again. It feels normal, it feels freeing,” Smith said. “They never should have closed, to be honest.”

Health officials have been clamouring for a loosening on restrictions for outdoor recreation, where COVID-19 transmission risks are lower. The Ontario Medical Association called for the move in a press release May 12.

The reopening comes as COVID-19 cases are falling in the province. Haliburton has three active cases as of May 22.

Gary Kent of Carnarvon Family Golf had awaited the start of the season, after a successful summer last year. He said there was plenty of traffic and it makes a significant difference opening for the long weekend. He said people did come from larger centres, though added it was kept safe.

“The people are coming up here to get away from the city. Get away from all the hectic COVID that’s going on there anyway,” Kent said. “They get up here, they’re outside, they’re all distanced, they’re all away from each other.”

But Kent said he could understand the province’s caution.

“I don’t want to catch the freaking COVID,” Kent said. “I was fine with it, being closed. If that’s what they have to do, then that’s okay.”

Michael Tripp visited the Haliburton skate park with his bike May 24 and said it was good to be back.

“It brings all riders and skaters together,” Tripp said. “Gives you an actual space to do your thing rather than go around town, ride off school things people may or may not want you to ride.”

Lockdown rules are still in effect otherwise, though the province has unveiled plans to start loosening restrictions in 21-day intervals if things continue to trend positively.

Smith said there are many benefits to having the extra chance for outdoor exercise.

“It’s the best kind of exercise. So many studies show being outside in nature is not just good for your physical health, but mental health,” Smith said. “I’d rather be outside than inside, for sure.”

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