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Centennial Park (copy)

Centennial Park

Helena’s lack of established hours for park use places it among the minority of communities asked if they have such regulation, according to a survey by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.

Amy Teegarden, the city’s Parks and Recreation Department director, told the City-County Parks Advisory Board recently that she surveyed communities in Montana and in nearby states on park use hours.

“Even East Helena closes their parks at night,” she said.

While city police track their visits to city parks, both routine patrols and calls for service, there was interest by the parks board to know the severity and frequency of incidents in the parks.

Teegarden said she didn’t have any definitive recommendations for addressing concerns with park problems, but she asked parks board members to visit websites that addressed these issues.

Discussion on park concerns was to remain an item for monthly discussion by the board.

Of the nine Montana cities surveyed -- including Billings, Bozeman, Butte, Missoula and Great Falls -- only Helena and Colstrip did not have hours of use for their parks, according to her March 2 memo to the parks board.

While Idaho Falls, Idaho, did not have park use hours, Eugene, Oregon, did, as did Spokane, Washington; Westminster, Colorado; and Williston, North Dakota.

The parks board has been discussing safety concerns since last August when business owners, park staff and police met to discuss safety concerns. Problems with litter and unruly people in the Memorial Park parking lot were discussed by the parks board in November 2014.

Intoxicated and unruly transients in Women’s Park, near the downtown where alcohol is sold, has drawn concern from business owners and park users, as have gatherings of young adults at Memorial and Centennial parks across town from Women’s Park.

The Memorial and Centennial parks crowds have been blamed for fights, graffiti, garbage, broken alcohol bottles and drug paraphernalia that resulted after nightly gatherings.

David Smith, the CEO for the Helena YMCA located next to Centennial Park and the city’s skate park, has told the parks board that he would like to see a park curfew.

Having a trail passing through Centennial Park would create problems for those who use it for transportation, a parks board member noted at that time.

Others on the board questioned the effect of more regulation on park users who aren’t part of the problems.

Teegarden also asked parks department officials in the other communities surveyed about the reasons that led to the establishment of park use hours.

“Those responses varied, but it usually had a common theme of they had issues in the park,” she said.

Enforcement of hours also varied, but typically was left to police to handle, she noted.

The establishment of park use hours allowed police the opportunity to enforce it for those who needed to be out of the parks after hours, Teegarden said.

Some communities had park “rangers” or watch programs, but they hinged on funding to maintain them.

Whether having established hours reduced vandalism wasn’t easily answered, Teegarden said, and explained there will always be some vandalism in parks.

While there are some rules governing conduct in city parks, they do allow for police to remove people who have been banned from parks because of their behavior, Teegarden said.

The city has been thinning vegetation to make parks less attractive to transients in response to concerns. New signs for the skate park are being obtained that will note the area that may be subject to video surveillance.

“What I would suggest is that there’s not one answer to all of this. It’s going to be a multi-faceted approach to what we do,” Teegarden said.

Al Knauber can be reached at al.knauber@helenair.com

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