City considers allowing alcohol in the parks

Published 9:20 am Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Albert Lea Parks and Recreation Advisory Board is considering whether to change the city policy that prohibits alcohol in the city’s parks.

Albert Lea Parks and Recreation Director Jay Hutchison said the discussion most recently came up after the Albert Lea Lakes Foundation requested to serve alcohol at its annual Party for the Lakes at Edgewater Park.

Under the current policy, this is not allowed. The city allows alcohol to be served by permit only at Snyder Field, the Albert Lea Armory and City Arena, but at all other parks it is prohibited.

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Albert Lea Police Chief Dwaine Winkels said when the ordinance was originally written it was made to crack down on the large alcohol parties in the 1970s and ’80s in city parks.

Since then, those large parties have gone by the wayside, and now people are having smaller gatherings, Winkels said. The ordinance is not practical and it does not meet with the current uses of the parks, he noted.

“Prohibition doesn’t work,” he said. “It’s not realistic.”

He said police currently only get involved at a park if something gets out of hand.

The city somehow needs to find a balance that will encourage people to use the parks but at the same time have an environment that is conducive for families with children, Winkels said.

The Albert Lea City Council directed the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board to review the policy, and out of the discussion has come several options, including opening up all the parks for alcohol use, opening up only certain parks for alcohol use, requiring people to have a permit for an event at a park where alcohol is served, limiting the amount of alcohol that is brought into a park, or requiring that there be no intoxication in the parks, among others.

Hutchison said Rochester allows alcohol to be in the parks but limits the amount that can be brought in.

The concern is implementing an ordinance that won’t be abused, added Advisory Board Chairman Tom Sorenson. The key is keeping the events that come to the parks to just a social drinking situation and not allowing them to escalate to a party level.

“We’ve definitely thought this through and want to make it more of a social policy and not a policy that could contribute to problems,” Sorenson said.

The Advisory Board will next meet at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 18 for further discussion on the issue.

At that time they could vote whether to recommend changes in the policy to the City Council or hold on to the matter for further review.