City parks will have new rules and a new atmosphere under an ordinance limiting alcohol use on premises.
The ordinance, which went into effect Jan. 1, bans public consumption or display of alcohol in city parks. Park patrons are allowed to have alcohol in the water and rented areas such as pavilions. Plastic foam products, including coolers, ice chests and cups will also be prohibited.
The ban in San Marcos parks is similar to the highly publicized New Braunfels “can ban.” Disposable containers are now impermissible in the Guadalupe and Comal River parks within the city limits under the can ban.
Some tubing outfitters reported an estimated 40 percent decrease in business last spring and summer, the first tourism season since the ordinance went into effect, according to reports from the New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung. According to a report by The Dallas Morning News, fewer citations have been issued and fewer arrests have been made since the can ban went into effect.
Like the can ban in New Braunfels, the San Marcos ordinance also aims to cut down on the number of issues and arrests at the river.
“The hope is that we have fewer incidents and fewer accidents that are alcohol related,” said Jeff Caldwell, park ranger supervisor. “That’s obviously one of the goals in the passage of the ordinance. The other was just to maintain a really nice family atmosphere at the parks.”
Caldwell said the ordinance also helps to create a consistency in policy throughout the city so that all parks have the same rules.
“We already had some parks where alcohol was not allowed,” Caldwell said. “At state parks it’s not allowed, at county parks it’s not allowed and at university parks it’s not allowed. It was really just trying to get an across-the-board rule that was a little bit easier to follow and understand.”
Park rangers and San Marcos police officers will patrol parks and give warnings to violators or issue citations to those not compliant with the new ordinance. Littering violations in city parks will also cost more under the ordinance and perpetrators will face $250 fines.
Caldwell said since alcohol is still legal to drink on the river, there will be access points at City Park and Rio Vista Park so river patrons can bring alcohol in and out of the water.
Rebecca Ybarra-Ramirez, executive director of the San Marcos Convention and Visitor Bureau, said million of tourists visit San Marcos a year.
Ybarra-Ramirez said it has yet to be determined whether the ban will affect recreational tourism numbers during the spring and summer months when tubers, canoe enthusiasts and kayakers descend upon the San Marcos River. She said some people enjoy an alcohol-free atmosphere.
Roger Astin, chemistry sophomore and river-goer, said he has never had any trouble with drunken river patrons or inappropriate behavior. Astin said he feels the ban will be detrimental to the city.
“The tourists and families in San Marcos are already used to the environment of being in a college town,” Astin said. “It’s the people who sell alcohol that this is going to hurt the most. The people that would be any problem to families and tourists in the park can’t be that much of an issue.”
Naveed Muhammad, owner and manager of Korner Food Store across from Sewell Park, said he sells a lot of alcohol during the tubing season. He also sells and rents out tubes. Muhammad said students and tourists alike come into his shop for alcohol.
“We get a lot of traffic from out of town,” Muhammad said. “It is hard to say, but I think a lot of people want to come for tubing, and the concept they have is they are going to have fun and they are going to drink. Once you limit the alcohol it may affect them from coming.”
Muhammad said his business started to suffer last year because of the confusion surrounding the ordinance while it was still under discussion.
“Even last year we had some people not sure since the city was debating,” Muhammad said. “We noticed a lot of people bring stuff in from outside the city limits. I think it is going to affect our business a lot.”
Caldwell said his force will be able to handle the park patrons and the transition to the new rules while continuing to educate river visitors and assisting with any issues or problems they may have.
“I don’t know if we are going to see a drastic decrease in the number of people that we need,” Caldwell said. “Truthfully, to get everything started and everything going, we almost need more people but I think we are going to be OK with the number that we have.”