Booze might not be banned at Gull Point this Fourth of July, but area DNR officials are making the public aware that enforcement is being stepped up at public parks across the Lakes area.
Kevin Szcodronski, chief of state parks for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, highlighted the most significant changes in enforcement during a Monday morning press conference at Gull Point State Park.
"We're dealing with a situation here that has really elevated dramatically over recent years ... over the Fourth of July weekend," Szcodronski said. "Gull Point Beach has become a tradition for young adults to gather in masses into the thousands of people; which is surprising if you look at the beach, it's not very large at all but the young adults really pack in there ... in recent years it's gotten to be a relatively unsafe situation with excessive alcohol consumption, risqué activities, dangerous activities."
"The goal there is just to assure that at least that one side of the road and the major travel portion stays free enough that we can get emergency vehicles down here if need be," Szcodronski said.
Szcodronski says officers will are prepared to enforce the new policy strictly.
"We may have to tow some people so the word gets out ... and we will be ready to do that."
Szcodronski says he believes most Gull Point visitors who partake in alcohol consumption are of legal age, but noted that three additional rangers and four additional conservation officers will be on hand targeting alcohol violations at Gull Point July 3-5.
He also is aware of the dangers created as the growing crowd on the beach spreads.
"They overflow into the water, knee-deep, waist-deep, just to fit room and they're kind of all just milling around," he said. "So far, we've been fortunate, we haven't had any serious fatalities or anybody getting hurt here, but quite frankly, if it continues to grow, we're on borrowed time because the crowd is so large that we could lose somebody."
In response, Szcodronski said, seasonal park officers will be patrolling beach areas as well as monitoring crowd movement.
"There is some concern there that if, on land, we upgrade our enforcement, that might move some people back onto the water more, which, we don't want that either," Szcodronski said. "The Law Enforcement Bureau and the water aides will be putting an additional force out there on the water, too."
Szcodronski has called in support around the site, and has been in talks with area law enforcement, including the sheriff's department and county attorney. He also says local highway law enforcement will be present around the Gull Point grounds, "patrolling roadways near the Gull Point Complex specifically for target seat belt, speed, and alcohol violations."
Sgt. David Eral with the Iowa State Patrol says this will be a standard procedure on the roadways surrounding public parks across the Lakes this Fourth.
"We're going to have several extra troopers working in the area, and not just spread out through the county, they'll be working the highways right close to the state park here," Eral said. "And really throughout the Lakes region, and should there be an issue within one of the state parks, then troopers will be called in and requested and we'll come in and we'll help deal with the enforcement issue."
Szcodronski says public commentary on the possibility for prohibiting alcohol at Gull Point continues to be collected online and through written commentary leading up to a public stakeholder meeting at 6:30 p.m. July 13 at Gull Point State Park. He says that data will be collected regarding the activity at the beach this holiday for review by the DNR Commission.
"There's going to be some people monitoring this, particularly with the word getting out in advance with 'how would the public respond voluntarily?' just making their best decision," he said. "We will be collecting the data, describing it, because we're sure our Commissioners are going to ask us 'well what happened this July 4?'
For now, Szcodronski says, the main concern is safety.
"We could very well on that Saturday and Sunday, the third and fourth of July weekend, have four or five thousand people on this small little beach here," he said. "So our goal there is to just urge people to be safe, understand the rules and regulations and get along and we will make it through this particular weekend."
Gull Point Multi-Agency Project
July 3-5, 2010
* Iowa State Patrol will have additional troopers patrolling roadways near the Gull Point Complex to target seat belt, speed, and alcohol violations.
* Iowa DNR Parks will have 3 additional rangers and Iowa DNR Law Enforcement will have 4 additional conservation officers targeting alcohol violations at Gull Point Beach each day.
* Iowa DNR Water Patrol will be targeting navigation violations and monitoring use at other beaches to inform project leaders of crowd movement.
* Iowa DNR Seasonal Park Officers will be patrolling state campgrounds and outlying beach areas, insuring the public's safety and monitoring use at other beaches to inform project leaders of crowd movement.
* Dickinson County Sheriff's Office will have officers available to assist if needed along with extra staff on duty at the county jail.
* Dickinson County Attorney is supportive and will prosecute arrests made during this project.