The City of Madison Parks Division is looking to enact an ordinance that would ban the consumption of all alcohol at any time in all of the city's 260 parks.
Madison's Alcohol Policy Coordinator Joel Plant said the idea is by no means near planning stages. Officials in the Parks Division are simply discussing the idea as a possibility to solve problems with drinking in parks, specifically in Vilas Park near the campus area, he said.
Forty-two-acre Vilas Park, located just a few blocks south of the west end of the University of Wisconsin, presents the largest problem currently because it is so accessible to students, Plant explained. Students and Madison residents alike often engage in games of "Keg Ball," but there is also a large homeless presence which contributes to the reputation of the area.
"Madison has lots of parks, and 18 of them currently have alcohol bans," Plant added. "But [the plan] is certainly not moving forward yet — the parks commission is currently setting a subcommittee to discuss this issue."
Plant said the 18 bans already in place limit the consumption of alcohol to certain times of the day or days of the week instead of banning alcohol on the premises entirely.
But Plant, who will assist on the parks committee, explained it is likely some action will be taken to address alcohol consumption in public parks. He also said, however, there are several possibilities to consider that do not involve completely outlawing drinking.
Former Parks Facility Maintenance Supervisor Tom Gilbertson agreed several options should be explored since alcohol consumption is not a problem all the time at every park around the city.
"Yes, we have issues with alcohol inside of our parks, but there's also people who drink alcohol responsibly inside our parks," he said.
Other possible alternatives to banning the consumption of alcohol in parks, he added, include doing a park analysis and imposing a ban on a case-by-case basis or enacting a compromise ban active only on certain days or at certain times during the day. It is also possible the committee will decide not to take any action and simply leave the rules as they are, Plant added.
"The situation is kind of a catch-22, and it could go a number of ways," Gilbertson said.
Yet Plant admitted a full-fledged alcohol ban would change the good, friendly atmosphere of many parks. While some parks do have a larger reputation of homelessness and binge drinking, others that allow alcohol consumption have a very positive atmosphere, he said, and the impact of the ban will completely depend on the use of the parks.
"[An alcohol ban] certainly would have an impact on the atmosphere of the parks, depending on their typical use," Plant added. "I think it's something that needs to be looked at at a very specific level."