TELLURIDE – A four-year experiment with open containers in Town Park came to an abrupt end last Friday, Nov. 30 when a newly-adopted ordinance went into effect spelling out guidelines pertaining to when and where alcoholic beverages can be consumed there.
Telluride Town Council unanimously adopted the ordinance last month. It amends municipal code in order to limit alcohol consumption in Town Park to registered campers, scheduled adult programs, and scheduled private functions and special events.
The new rules were developed to redress the unintended consequences of an earlier ordinance dating to 2009, which allowed unrestricted alcohol consumption throughout most of the park.
Many Telluridians embraced the liberal policy, which allowed them to freely enjoy a few beers while tossing a frisbee or playing a game of horseshoes or softball in the park. However, it also led to problems related to excessive drinking that resulted in mounting complaints from community members, said Parks and Recreation Director Stephanie Jaquet.
“People were taking advantage of the situation by hanging out and drinking in Town Park for long periods in public places with youth,” Parks and Rec Commission Chairman David Lamb said. “It took the comfort level away for parents with young children.”
Travis Julia was among those who publicly voiced his concern. “People were exercising alcoholism at Town Park,” Julia said. He and his wife suddenly felt that they couldn’t bring their children to the playground there anymore.
The park had also become an uncomfortable place for women, who often experienced an atmosphere “like walking through a bar,” Julia said, when they entered certain parts of the park where excessive drinking was taking place. “They’d hear comments about them,” Julia said. “That is no fun. Our town park is a great asset. It’s so cool. My concern was that if we didn’t do something immediately, the problem and issue would grow to the point where it was something that was just accepted.”
The Parks and Rec Commission discussed these challenges and brainstormed ways to address them during several work sessions last summer. “We spent a lot of time with the town manager, town marshal and town attorney, coming up with guidelines for a new policy,” Lamb said.
Jaquet, meanwhile, did extensive research to learn how other communities in the region were addressing the issue of alcohol consumption in public places.
The discussion and research led to the development of the new policy that was just adopted.
Jaquet described the new ordinance as a kind of middle ground, and stressed that it will be up to the Marshal’s Department regarding how strictly to enforce it.
Town Manager Greg Clifton agreed, stating that “there has to be some prudence on behalf of the law enforcement agency. It goes without saying, if certain user groups are very discrete and not intruding upon others, no one is taking notice. I don’t know that that’s a bad approach. There is never complete consistency when it comes down to where to the problems lie and how we react to them.”
In a way, the new ordinance returns Telluride to the “don’t ask, don’t tell” mentality toward drinking in the park which has held sway for decades, Lamb said. “When alcohol was prohibited prior to 2009, the law wasn’t strictly enforced, and it wasn’t a problem. It became a problem, though, when we removed the law. I’m hopeful we came up with a good policy that will work for us. People need to use good judgement and discretion.”
In discussion leading up to the ordinance’s unanimous adoption, several councilors voiced some concern about its potential ramifications. Brian Werner said he felt like “someone who wants to go throw around a frisbee and drink a beer on a Sunday afternoon is left out.”
Thom Carnivale, meanwhile, stated that the town should be wary of trying to do “social engineering,” and expressed hope that with implementation of the new policy, “the civil liberties” of those who frequent the park should be respected.
“No one is trying to trod on civil liberties,” Councilor Ann Brady retorted. “But we need to protect those who use the park.”
Julia, meanwhile, said he is “really happy” about the new ordinance. “It will allow clarification and responsible consumption of alcohol in Town Park,” he said.
A random opinion poll of two brothers who were headed into Town Park to toss some horseshoes, and possibly drink a beer or two, on a sunny day last week yielded another perspective: “We think it’s stupid, but we understand.”