Residents, officials meet to debate possible Washington Park alcohol ban

People active in Washington Park in Denver.

People active in Washington Park in Denver.

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DENVER — Starting with a meeting Wednesday night, Denver’s department of Parks and Recreation will consider furthering the efforts that began last summer to deal with the growing amount of alcohol consumption in Washington Park.

The meeting was well-attended and the debate was lively with widely differing opinions about how to handle problems, especially where alcohol is involved.

And one potential step could be a complete ban on alcohol in the increasingly popular park.

At the behest of his constituents, Denver City Councilman Chris Nevitt approached Parks & Rec about the idea of banning alcohol from Wash Park entirely. That potential ban will be discussed at a meeting Wednesday night, which is scheduled to held at 6 p.m. at the Bahai Center.

Currently, Wash Park only permits the consumption of 3.2 beer in either plastic cups or cans. Glass and all alcohol of higher octane is banned, and if park goers are caught consuming such a beverage by one of the park’s rangers, a citation and fine may be issued.

The fines and citations were new punitive measures in the park as of July of 2013. Prior to that, Parks & Rec spokesperson Jeff Green said, rangers only had the authority to issue advisories if they saw someone breaking any of the parks rules.

“That means prior to July of last year, our rangers could only advise you, ‘Glass is not allowed, please. Go get rid of it,’” Green said.

Providing their rangers with the power to issue citations was a step in the right direction in the minds of many Wash Park residents. But it may not be enough.

In his letter to the Parks & Rec department requesting a ban, Nevitt said residents in the area have complained about a growing number of incidents involving litter, overflowing porta-potties, belligerent behavior of park goers in their neighborhoods, violent confrontations, public urination and illegally parked cars.

“Not only have these issues had profound impacts on the residents living adjacent to Washington Park, but they have also seriously eroded the vital family-friendly quality of one of our City’s finest parks,” Nevitt wrote. “All these issues share a common theme: they are all either directly caused or badly exacerbated by alcohol.”

Though she believes many of her neighbors would support such a ban, Cindy Johnstone, president of Friends and Neighbors of Washington Park (also known as FANS), said she would prefer a more tempered approach.

“The suggestion that there’s a bunch of trash and drunks all over park seems like an exaggeration,” Johnstone said. “Sure, there’s abuse. But I find the majority of people are very respectful. And I think if you told people alcohol was going to be banned in the park if they didn’t clean up their acts, behavior would change.”

If nothing else, Green said the department of Parks & Rec has seen an increase in the amount of visitors to Wash Park. As many as 10,000 visited the park in a single sunny day last summer, and many of them were consuming alcohol. That led to challenges.

“We have seen an increase in littler and an increase in the need for porta-potties around the park,” Green said. “I’m not sure if that’s a cause for concern or just an indication that the park is increasing in popularity. Maybe the two go hand-in-hand.”

Green also acknowledged the fact that Lauri Dannemiller, the manager of Denver Parks & Rec, has the authority to issue a complete ban on alcohol in any city park for up to six months if her department determines that’s the best course of action. After that, a long-term policy change would have to go through a number of channels before being enacted.

At the end of the day, Johnstone said she is hopeful that a complete ban on alcohol in Wash Park would not be enacted without more public discourse.

“A lot of people are talking about the fact that San Diego beaches are alcohol free,” Johnstone said. “But I think it’s also important to note that San Diego took that issue to the public for a vote before making anything official. I think it would be nice if we saw a similar approach to alcohol in Wash Park.”

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