Alcohol in City Parks?

By Beacon Staff

Should alcohol consumption be allowed at events in public parks?

The Kalispell City Council will decide that answer at a later date but in the meantime a one-time exemption could be made for a proposed brewfest at Woodland Park in conjunction with an adult hockey tournament.

The second annual Craft Brewers Ice Hockey Challenge is slated for early March at the Woodland Park Center and Josh Townsley, owner of Tamarack Brewing Co., said organizers would like to include a brewfest at this year’s festivities similar to events in other cities. Last year’s event featured two days of hockey games and competitions at Woodland’s ice rink but partnered with the annual Bigfork Brewfest.

In Kalispell it’s illegal to consume or sell alcohol on public property. Only a few city-owned sites are exempt and eligible for a special-use permit: Buffalo Hill Golf Club; the Hockaday Museum of Art; Museum at Central School; the Conrad Mansion; and the Chamber of Commerce, which is only allowed alcohol consumption.

Municipal code explicitly states “intoxicating liquors” are prohibited in city parks.

Townsley is asking council to consider broadening the city code and allow events such as the Craft Brewers’ to apply for a temporary alcohol permit.

At a work session in City Hall on Monday night, councilors were overly supportive of the proposed brewfest, especially since the structure at Woodland Ice Center could help deter underage drinking. But the councilors were wary of overwhelmingly allowing alcohol in city parks, which are popular locations for families and children.

“We got to be careful of that type of influence,” Councilor Bob Hafferman said. “(Alcohol is) just not a good thing for the public to promote.”

Councilors asked why alcohol is allowed at Kalispell’s Thursday!Fest, which runs during the summer months from 5-8 p.m. on Third Street East between Main Street and First Avenue East.

Alcohol at Thursday!Fest is supposed to be consumed and sold on private property – the KM Building parking lot – but not on city sidewalks or streets.

“Whether or not it happens, it’s an enforcement issue. Not a legality issue,” City Manager Doug Russell said.

Mike Baker, director of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, said countless requests come in every year for events with alcohol, including weddings and graduation parties. Most people are unaware of the city’s restriction of alcohol on public property until seeking a permit, Baker said.

Most other cities across Montana, including Missoula, Billings, Helena and Bozeman, allow alcohol consumption and sales at certain city parks.

In Missoula, alcohol is allowed for events at community parks with public restrooms. Billings and Bozeman similarly restricts events with alcohol to major community parks. In Helena, a designated area, commonly called a beer garden, must be established at an event.

Kalispell has four city parks with restrooms: Woodland, Lawrence, Lion’s and Begg.

Baker said the city’s parks annually attract roughly 300 reservations for events such as weddings, mostly between April and October.

An action item is scheduled to appear on the agenda at the Feb. 4 meeting. Council will decide whether to allow the Craft Brewers to hold a brewfest at Woodland Park while waiting to tackle the larger issue of drinking in city parks for a later date.

The proposed change to municipal code was not without a critic.

“There are many of us who don’t drink alcohol,” said Joe Apple, who spoke during pubic comment. “Alcohol takes a terrible, terrible toll in our whole society and you’re about to allow a special provision in Woodland Park where our children play.”

Apple cited alcohol-related driving deaths across the U.S. and Montana.

“People drive to these events and there’s a good chance they’ll drive away and you have no idea how alcohol is going to figure in,” Apple said.

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