Washington Park alcohol ban abandoned; Denver will pursue other rules and enforcement instead

DENVER - Alcohol will not be banned in Denver's popular Washington Park, but the city will pursue other rules to "improve the overall experience for visitors and residents alike."

City officials announced the decision Tuesday in a joint statement from the mayor's office and Denver Parks and Recreation.

The debate over alcohol in the park began with a letter written by District 7 City Councilman Chris Nevitt asking Denver Parks and Recreation to consider the idea after a series of problems including litter, public urination and violent fights. Currently, the only alcohol allowed in any city park is 3.2 beer.

"We feel things are out of control at this point," said David Matthews, a member of the West Washington Park Neighborhood Association. "Whether what is on the table at this point is going to be effective, we'll have to wait and see."

A public hearing was held on the subject in April where residents were divided on the subject.

At the hearing, City officials displayed pictures on billboards of overflowing portable toilets, piles of beer cans and images of people urinating in public. Last year, Denver Parks and Recreation spent $100,000 on bathrooms alone. According to Parks and Recreation, rangers handed out 93 glass citations and 1,280 warnings.

As an alternative to the alcohol ban, the city says this list of changes will be put into place by Memorial Day Weekend and will be managed by Parks and Recreation:

  • Establish a drop-in permit system for volleyball and other multi-person organized activities on weekends and holidays.
  • Increase the servicing of existing portable bathrooms and make plumbed bathrooms available for additional hours, including after-hours for Washington Park Recreation Center bathrooms.
  • Direct park visitors to the availability of free parking in the South High School parking lot. 
  • Place permanent and moveable signage around the park to remind park users and visitors that only 3.2 percent beer, and no liquor or glass, is allowed in the park. 
  • Increase right-of-way enforcement in the adjacent neighborhoods to ticket vehicles illegally parked in driveways or in handicapped spaces.
  • With signage and volunteers in place, Denver Park Rangers will view rule violations, including alcohol violations, with less tolerance and issue more citations for violations.
  • Increase Park Ranger patrol; deploy two full-time rangers in Washington Park on weekends.
  • Deploy DPD Mounted Patrol on high-traffic weekend days and holidays; ramp up DPD general enforcement for the park area on all weekends and holidays.
  • Reinforce DPR education and enforcement efforts with volunteer efforts from neighbors and patrons, through independent social media and “courtesy patrols” in the park and surrounding neighborhoods.

The details of the drop-in permits are still being hammered out, said Nevitt.  

"We're not here to call out volleyball," he said. "The problem is overuse of the park and violation of alcohol rules. So, we have to figure out how to have a drop-in permit not focused on volleyball but on large numbers of people engaged in an organized activity. Precisely how we do that, I don't think we have nailed down, yet, but we will."

Not everyone is thrilled about the idea of paying to play.

"I think that's stupid, too," said Christine Duba, who plays volleyball in the park every weekend during the summer. "It's a public park. Why would you charge people to come to a public park? That would take away from the active lifestyle Denver promotes for itself."

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