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Parks closed at sundown

Oct 3, 2012 - By Steven R. Peck

It's a big step in response to a big problem, and it deserves a chance

Citizens often appear to presume that public officials have a magic wand. If only it were true.

Cases in point abound, but a current one locally is the City of Riverton's move to close city parks at sundown every day. It's an attempt to cut down on undesirable use of the parks.

For years, city residents have called for the city to "do something" about the incidents of public intoxication, public urination, panhandling and fighting in the parks, with Riverton City Park clearly standing out as Exhibit A.

Critics say the bad actors have served, effectively, to drive off more legitimate, wholesome use of the park, forfeiting it to the troublemakers.

"Do something," says the public.

Anyone who listens to a police radio as a hobby (in our office the squawk box is part of the job) knows that there are lots of police calls to City Park already. It isn't as if the police department is ignoring the park. Short of posting armed guards at all four corners, there probably isn't a whole lot more that could be done in terms of response-based law enforcement.

The city has had long, public discussions on alcohol abuse, but consensus has been hard to come by. Some of the sternest critics of unsavory conditions at the parks also have voiced disapproval of the Fremont County Alcohol Crisis Center, which is where many of the people arrested for improper conduct at the park end up. Sometimes those criticisms seem to be at cross purposes.

Closing the parks at sundown is a new idea, and it has drawn some fire. Events in the park sometimes end after sunset, and it is not uncommon for people to take a walk in a park after dark or spread a blanket on the grass and look up at the stars. Presumably, special permission can be granted to an entity that had a legitimate after hours use of the park, such as a family or class reunion.

It is, of course, an unfortunate development when closing a public park before any sort of typical curfew hour has been reached is put forth as a solution to a problem caused by such a small part of the population. The parks belong to everybody, and access to public property ought to be as free and open as possible.

But it also is an unfortunate development when public parks are fouled and vandalized by those who would turn them into unsavory or unwelcoming places.

To be sure, this is a drastic step. But we have a problem here, and a fair case can be made that a drastic step is what's necessary to reverse the tide that is undermining not just the operations of the park but threatens the spirit of the public park system.

To paraphrase a certain high ranking official, this is what "doing something" looks like. The new policy deserves chance to succeed.

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