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Denver Parks & Rec considering total ban on alcohol in Wash Park

A potential ban on all alcohol consumption in Washington Park will be up for a public debate on April 9, 2014.

Washington Park in Denver.

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

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

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.

At the reported behest of his constituents, Denver City Councilman Chris Nevitt, who could not be reached for comment Wednesday, approached Parks & Rec about the idea of banning alcohol from Wash Park entirely. That potential ban will be discussed at an upcoming meeting on April 9, which is scheduled to held at 6 p.m. at the Bahai Center.

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 the majority of people are 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.”

That said, Johnstone also acknowledged that the issue of alcohol consumption in Wash Park has reached a “tipping point,” especially in the minds of residents on the west side of the park.

“Last summer, a lot of people were complaining about a disturbing increase in people who urinating in their yards and blocking their driveways — things like that,” Johnstone said. “Things got bad enough for them to start getting a little more vocal with their concerns.”

At the very least, Green said the department of Parks & Rec has seen an increase in the amount of visitors to Wash Park. Thousands upon thousands descended on the park 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.”