If the sweeping new rule change in Denver parks hasn’t been on the forefront of your summer planning, there’s a good reason for that.
“We haven’t had great weather,” said Cyndi Karvaski, spokeswoman for Denver Parks & Recreation. “That means less people using the park, less violations or citations, and less awareness of the new rule.”
That may have been true in recent weeks, but things are changing. Warm, sunny forecasts have drawn an increasing amount of visitors to Denver’s sprawling parks system, which spans 350 mountain, plains and urban parks in four Front Range counties. When those visitors arrive, they’ll benefit from a newly streamlined law that allows them to legally consume full-strength beer, wine and champagne without fear of citation.
That wasn’t the case as recently as late December, just before the rule change took effect, when only 3.2 beer was allowed in city parks. An untold number of people had already been flaunting the rule over the years, and even those who did get caught were mostly let off with warnings.
But when the state legislators made it legal for 1,600 grocery stores, convenience marts and other formerly 3.2-only outlets to sell full-strength alcohol in Colorado last year, the parks department decided to update its own, occasionally controversial policy for the sake of consistency.
Different parks often had different consumption rules, Karvaski said, which led to confusion and frustration among some visitors in the past. To get in line with the new retail law, the parks department surveyed nearly 5,000 people on the rule change and used the feedback to guide their policy. Of course, those respondents only represented a sliver of the total visitors to Denver’s parks, so updating visitors remains a priority.
“Even without the influx of new residents, people just don’t know,” said Bob Toll, who manages the parks system’s 45 rangers. This time of year — during the March-to-October busy season — Toll’s rangers canvas the parks at least twice a day, seven days a week. Late snow and generally wet weather have kept many people indoors or in the high country, so the rangers haven’t had many opportunities to remind people about the rule change.
“We haven’t had a lot of problems, but I do expect we’ll see more consumption as the days get warmer,” he said. “Very few of our contacts actually result in citations. We’re usually in education mode trying to remind people of how their actions affect others in the park.”
That’s not always clear-cut, he added, since a large amount of park signage still needs to be updated to reflect the rule change. And for now, the rule is temporary. It will “sunset” at the end of this year to allow for more tweaks, which take into account community input (including more surveys and public hearings) as well as the experiences of park rangers.
But we won’t go back to the old days, as Karvaski called them, joking that she was old enough to remember when 3.2 beer was available for anyone 18 years of age and older.
“It’s a lot of common-sense rules that you’ll find at any park,” added Toll, a former ranger with the state parks system. “Unless it’s an egregious safety issue or complaint or injury, most of our contacts are just informing people or warning them.”
The warnings may become more frequent in the lead-up to the busiest park-use weeks of the year — which bookend the Fourth of July holiday. Here’s what you need to know before your next party in the park:
- The law is the law. As with anywhere else, you have to be 21 and up to consume, so anyone who’s consuming and looks underage will likely be questioned. And safety extends beyond age limits, Toll said. Anyone who over-consumes and then tries to drive — whether it’s a car or a bicycle, scooter or skateboard — will be subject to the same laws they would be outside the park. In other words: Rangers will call the cops on you (if necessary).
- Staying wound-free. This may seem obvious, but the amount of beer and wine sold in glass bottles is considerable, and park-goers may not always remember to bring a stack of plastic cups or buy their booze in cans to avoid breaking those bottles. “If you bring in wine, it has to be in a box or something else,” Happy Haynes, executive director of Denver’s parks department, told a land-use committee last year, assuring them with a smile that boxed wine has increased in quality in recent years. Denver parks also don’t allow kegs without a permit, so hold off your beer-pong tournament until you secure one.
- Permitted parties. The rules change if you’ve officially reserved an area of the park for a public or ticketed event, whether it’s a 5K, concert or a family reunion. This permitting allows for the sale and consumption of spirituous liquors, as the city calls them, given that special events with alcohol sales require liquor licenses (which are often justified by routing a portion of the sales to a nonprofit partner). Contact the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses to apply for a permit for by calling 311 or visiting denvergov.org. Fair warning: The park calendars filled up fast last fall when permitting opened for calendar year 2019.
- Where and when: If you consume near a prohibited area — such as a pool, school, recreation center or senior-living facility — you’re going to draw a lot more attention from park rangers. Stay back at least 25 feet from the boundaries of such areas when consuming alcohol. Playgrounds and play-parks are also off-limits, which means not only swing sets and outdoor climbing walls but also skate parks and bicycle parks, where children are often present.
- Stay in your lane. “The biggest complaint we get — across all parks — is actually off-leash dogs,” Toll said. When you’re setting up for a day of fun, think of it like a campsite. You’re expected to respect your neighbor’s space and clean up after yourself in addition to following appropriate on-site rules. “Don’t drive a vehicle down the middle of Wash Park Meadows or in the middle of hiking foot-path,” Toll said. “Some people do.”