The plan to ban: Public weighs in at public hearing on Gull Point debate
With the possibility for a ban on beer and wine at Gull Point and other DNR-operated public beaches at the Lakes still on the horizon for next year's Fourth of July, citizens from both sides of the argument gathered to share their views at a July 13 meeting held at the Gull Point Lodge.
Kevin Szcodronski, chief of state parks for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, opened the hearing by providing details on the proposed rule. Szcodronski, described it as a "very specific, time-sensitive ban" that would only apply to July Fourth and the immediate surrounding weekends. He noted that the ban would remove the right to consume beer and wine as bans on hard liquor had "been in place for years and years." He also said the ban could potentially include Crandall's public access beach, Orleans public access beach, Gull Point, the Emerson Bay recreation beach, Pike's Point, and the Triboji Public access beach.
While Szcodronski gave kudos to contributing agencies such as the Highway Patrol and local law enforcement as well as increased DNR patrols at Gull Point for helping to keep the revelers at the beach under control, he noticed a high volume of traffic again this Fourth.
"It went fairly well, but not without incident, believe me, there were arrests, quite a few of them, but it didn't elevate to a place where we felt there was an unsafe situation," Szcodronski said.
Szcodronski said, for the most part, the trend of high traffic and even higher alcohol consumption at DNR-operated parks over the Fourth still seems to be a problem unique to the Lakes area.
"We don't seem to have nearly the concern or the problem nor are we seeing the problem to this extent at any other state park or state beach," he said. "We have some isolated concerns, but, I'll be honest with you, nothing even close to the magnitude of Gull Point Beach on July Fourth weekend the past few years and it doesn't seem to be getting any better, so we're looking for solutions."
Michael Johnson, a Missouri Valley native, spoke at the hearing against the proposed rule, citing a need for increased enforcement year round over a holiday-exclusive ban.
"When I'm up here in the non-holiday areas, I see what I perceive is a lack of enforcing the general day-to-day rules," Johnson said. "It's my belief, that if, 365 days a year, you adopt better enforcement of all the rules, and then have the heightened security on July Fourth for a few years, the word is going to get out and people will change their behavior."
Johnson also cited a fear the ban could expand further into the summer.
"If you pass this rule and adopt it, I think it opens the door to maybe expanding it to other holidays, other parks, and then we become lazy in our enforcement," he said. "If we can't control the crowds now, how is another law going to work?"
Mary Sloan of Milford serves as supervisor in the prevention department at Compass Pointe a drug and alcohol treatment unit with offices in Spirit Lake. Sloan spoke in favor of the ban, citing already-high rates of alcohol consumption for youth in the state.
"Binge drinking is a major issue in Iowa," Sloan said. "We're in the top five in the nation in binge drinking for our youth. So any time that we are allowing it, encouraging it, looking the other way, we are giving permission."
JoAnn Block of Le Mars serves as a campground host at Gull Point and spoke in favor of the ban due to the increased vulgarity of the crowds gathered over the holiday.
"One year ago we had a little four-year-old boy that came running out of the bathroom with his dad and said 'Daddy, what are they doing to those two ladies in there?'" Block said. "That is an embarrassment. I don't know what to tell my campers when they want to bring their families in because it is not a family environment."
She also noted the traffic dangers presented by haphazard parking of Gull Point party goers.
"We have cars that have been buried down to their axles in the ditch because there was no place to park and they pulled off and it was wet and they didn't really care where they were at," she said.
Szcodronski noted that the commentary from the night's meeting would be compiled along with letters and online submissions that have been collected by the DNR over the last several months. He plans to present the findings to the DNR Commission at the August or September commission meeting, and eventually to the state legislature, setting into motion what he described as a five-month process.
"Changing rules, it's a serious proposition for us and we just don't take that lightly and neither does the legislature or the commissioners," Szcodronski said. "So our goal is for whatever decision is made to be in effect next year."