Party at Phelps Grove Park Pavilion.
Party at Phelps Grove Park Pavilion. (Photo by Dean Curtis)

Planning to take a six-pack or a bottle of wine to the park? Think again.

It is legal to have alcoholic beverages in Springfield’s public parks, but only under specific conditions. At the request of the Springfield-Greene County Park Board, the Springfield City Council will consider enacting an ordinance on Feb. 6 that clarifies the rules for boozy beverages in parks in an effort to end the confusion.

The bill also specifies all park patrons must head out by 11 p.m., no matter which of Springfield’s 105 parks they are in.

“We took time to sort of clean up our park rules and the city code, with respect to our park curfew,” Springfield-Greene County Parks Director Bob Belote said. “There was some ambiguity about when we actually closed parks, at 11 o’clock, or on the books from way-back-when, it was 1 in the morning, and we really wanted to get it to 11.”

At a Park Board meeting in early January, Belote said it was important to create a consistent city code for the Springfield-Greene County Park Rangers, Springfield Police Department and Greene County Sheriff’s Office to enforce. However, law enforcement agents did not drive the change. Belote said neighborhood associations asked for the clarification.

“[The neighborhood associations] just wanted to make sure they didn’t have overnight activity, people in [parks] after hours doing the wrong thing,” Belote said.

When is alcohol OK in Springfield parks?

Phelps Grove Park is home to several public grills and picnic areas. Alcohol is prohibited in Phelps Grove Park. (Photo by Rance Burger)

In 2018, the Springfield City Council voted to repeal a blanket prohibition of alcoholic beverages in city parks, but that repeal didn’t turn the parks into year-round B.Y.O.B sites. There are times and places the Park Board allows alcohol to be brought onto park sites and sold. Under the new bill, any alcohol sales and events with alcoholic beverages would require the written consent of the Springfield-Greene County Park Board.

The Park Board sells beer at golf courses, and at Jordan Valley Ice Park, Cooper Tennis Complex and Meador Park during select college sporting events. You can also get a cold one at the Dickerson Park Zoo during special events. Licensed caterers are able to sell beer and wine at 11 park sites, if they have a permit.

Springfield Assistant City Attorney Lana Woolsey said the language in the bill will make it legal for the park rangers to write tickets for unapproved alcohol possession and consumption across the park system.

“What we would like to do now is add a provision that will make it code enforceable for prohibition of general alcohol at sites, unless the Park Board has specifically approved it or unless the person is participating in an approved event,” Woolsey said.

Zone 2 Councilman Abe McGull said the alcohol provisions in the council bill make sense.

“If you’re going to have the liability from the alcohol, you should also sell it and be responsible for the sale of it,” McGull said.

Woolsey said the language in the bill also clarifies that a person who buys a legally sold beverage in a park may legally drink their drink.

“Parks has approved events where alcohol is authorized,” Woolsey said. “Well, that’s for the event and the host. This was just to clarify that there is an exception for attendees at those approved events, so that they are allowed to have alcohol and consume alcohol as part of the approved event.”

A final vote on the park regulation bill is set for Feb. 6.

Phelps Grove Park has a curfew of 11 p.m., and reopens each day at 5:30 p.m. Not all of Springfield’s public parks have hours of operation posted with signs. (Photo by Rance Burger)

Rance Burger

Rance Burger covers local government for the Daily Citizen. His goal is to help people know more about what projects their government is involved in, and how their tax dollars are being spent. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia with 15 years experience in journalism. Reach him at rburger@sgfcitizen.org or by calling 417-837-3669. Twitter: @RanceBurger More by Rance Burger