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Parks defend policy of allowing alcohol
Parks defend policy of allowing alcohol
By JOAN DEMIRJIAN
Despite complaints by some residents, the Geauga Park District said its policy of allowing alcohol to be consumed at picnic shelters in its parks is not unsafe.
Park district Director Thomas Curtin said this week the district has not had any problems with the longstanding policy. He said park visitors can have alcoholic beverages, including beer, wine or other liquors, in the picnic shelters.
The policy prohibits them from walking around the trails with alcohol, sitting at picnic tables outside the pavilions with alcohol or drinking in the parking lots, he said.
Geauga Park District rangers oversee any violations of those rules, Mr. Curtin said.
Most often, if a ranger cites someone regarding the alcoholic-beverage policy, it is an occasional visitor with an open container away from the shelter, he said.
Statistics show that, in the past three years, 34 citations for violations of alcoholic rules were issued in Geauga parks.
Lake Metropark rangers wrote approximately 120 violations in the same period, Mr. Curtin said. "It really puts it in perspective," he said of the numbers.
The Lake Metroparks and the Cleveland Metroparks do not allow alcoholic beverages in their parks.
In the Lake Metroparks, alcohol is permitted at the Lake Front Lodge when a ranger is paid by those renting the lodge to be on-site for any event planned, he said.
The Geauga Park District has allowed alcohol in its pavilions since the 1970s, Mr. Curtin said.
"People coming to the park to picnic can enjoy a glass of wine or beer, as long as they are acting responsibly. We would change it if we had a problem," Mr. Curtin said of the policy.
He said beer cans are not strewn across park trails. Occasionally, a beer can is found, but it is rare, he said. "Our parks aren't littered with empty beer cans," he said.
The opening of Sunnybrook Preserve park in Chester sparked some of the comments by people who were opposed to the park, Mr. Curtin said.
It is common to have some people upset about the opening of a park in their neighborhood. Then, when it is open and operating, they realize their concerns are not being realized, and the opposition dissipates, he said.
Everyone feared that, when the Maple Highlands bike trail opened, there would be trails littered with beer cans, he said. That has not happened, Mr. Curtin said.
"People in our county take care of our parks," he said. "Geauga County residents are responsible and take good care of them."
Mr. Curtin said the district advises people to call the park district or the Geauga County Sheriff's Department if they see something. A ranger will be dispatched, or the local police departments will be involved if they see violations involving alcohol.
"We also have volunteers called 'trail gators' who patrol the trails and report problems," Mr. Curtin said. "We don't hear a lot of reports about litter or vandalism."
Robert Urban, chief park district ranger, said the district has had a quiet fall and winter in terms of people disobeying park rules. Vandalism ocurrs, but it has to be kept in perspective, he said. The incidents include grafitti and stealing toilet paper rolls along with minor traffic accidents.
"It's generally low key," Mr. Urban said. Park visitors can call the nonemergency number at (440) 286-9516 if there is a nonemergency. Otherwise the Geauga County Sheriff's Department dispatch center or 911 can be called.
Geauga County Juvenile and Probate Court Judge Charles Henry appoints the park district commissioners, who set policy in the parks. Commissioners serve three-year terms.
Park commissioners are Robert McCullough, Mark Rzeszotarski and John Leech.
Mr. Henry said the policy permitting alcohol at the park pavilions has been in effect for decades, and predates at least two of the current commissioners.
"I'm not aware of any significant problems in the park, particularly with minors," he said.
"We have a drinking problem with kids in the county, but not in the parks," Mr. Henry said.
He said the park commissioners and park district staff do an excellent job of overseeing the parks.
There were concerns by surrounding neighbors when Frohring Meadows opened on Savage Road in Bainbridge. There were the same concerns with the Maple Highlands bike trail.
But once the parks open, those neighbors are some of the biggest fans, Mr. Henry said.
Mr. McCullough has been a member of the park commission since 1972.
"I don't know of any problems," he said with the alcohol policy. He has walked in the parks almost every day for years, and "I don't see any beer cans on the trails.
"I go to the bike trail and I haven't seen any evidence of alcohol abuse," Mr. McCullough said.
He also said that people are often concerned when a park first goes in near them, but that concern subsides soon after it opens.
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