A handmade sign posted at White Bear Lake County Park last week and flyers distributed to residents living near the park indicate that Ramsey County is proposing to open parks 24 hours a day.

The signs, flyers and social media posts are in response to Ramsey County's Park Ordinance Project, which seeks to revise the current park ordinance. The ordinance was adopted in 1992 and hasn't been changed since 2007. No changes to park hours or other policies have been made.

“This is a routine process to make sure the ordinances are reflective of modern needs,” says Mark McCabe. “For example, drones flying in parks weren't a thing in 2007. It's necessary to review policies to make sure they are current with the times.”

According to information on the county's website, the Park Ordinance Project aims to respond to community feedback about park access; minimize or eliminate regulations that increase inequity; and modernize the ordinance. From Dec. 2020 through March 2021, staff reviewed the ordinance and drafted revisions, constituting phase one of the project. Phase two consisted of soliciting community feedback through an online survey of residents. The survey, open from July 17 to Aug. 17, collected resident responses on the following topics: park hours, tobacco use and vaping in parks, fines and penalties for violations, as well as feedback about other sections of the ordinance. The survey was advertised through signs at parks, outreach to stakeholders and social media.

McCabe said they received more than 1,400 responses and 8,600 comments on the park ordinance. Additionally, two virtual community conversations were held; 45 people participated. Residents may continue to submit feedback to staff and county commissioners by email. Those comments will be added to the public record.

With regard to the survey question about park hours, respondents were asked “What is appealing” about Option A, setting year-round park hours from 5 a.m. until 11 p.m.; or Option B, eliminating park hours, making them accessible 24/7. Ramsey County parks are currently open to the public 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset. McCabe says the question of park access has been a concern for residents, and Ramsey County is among few agencies in the Twin Cities area that does not have posted hours.

Survey respondents and social media posts have expressed a variety of concerns, including that parks being open 24 hours could result in overnight encampments, or “tent cities.” McCabe said current policy does not allow overnight camping in parks, and that the policy would not change with any revisions to the ordinance.

“There is no overnight camping in the parks, and that policy would stay in the ordinance regardless,” says McCabe. “Local laws are also in effect at parks.”

An email response from County Commissioner Victoria Reinhardt reiterated that no changes to the ordinance have been made at this time.

“Ramsey County Parks and Recreation is in the process of requesting and receiving many comments and concerns from residents regarding potential Park Ordinance revisions, including park hours of operation,” said Reinhardt in an email. “A Ramsey County Board workshop is scheduled for early November to discuss any recommended changes to the Park Ordinance that are in alignment with the resident feedback currently being gathered.”

The Ramsey County Board of Commissioners will review recommendations, consider resident feedback, and provide direction on policy changes at a workshop scheduled for Nov. 2. Based on that discussion, policy changes to the ordinance could be brought to commissioners for a vote at a later date.

Information about the Park Ordinance Project and a compilation of survey responses can be viewed at ramseycounty.us/residents/parks-recreation/planning-construction-restoration/park-ordinance-project.

 

— Amy Johnson

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