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From bike speeds to alcohol, Missoula Parks Department recommends rule changes

Donna Gaukler, director of the Missoula Department of Parks and Recreation, is proposing a number of rule changes governing the city’s network of parks and trails. (Missoula Current file photo)

The Department of Parks and Recreation on Wednesday lobbied members of the City Council to implement a suite of changes to ordinances governing Missoula’s parks and trails, saying many rules haven’t been updated since 1991.

The proposed changes clarify parking, camping and hours of operation for city parks. It sets modern rules for the consumption of alcohol, addresses inappropriate behavior and adds new definitions to trail safety.

“Most of our complaints about trail safety happen on our busiest trails in the downtown area,” said department director Donna Gaukler. “Most of those complaints are related to congestion and speed.”

The city will look to post trail signs to educate commuters and define reckless cycling. That’s likely to reflect state code covering the same for motor vehicles, Gaukler said.

It would also include failing to yield the right of way, or failing to give an audible warning before overtaking a pedestrian or slower cyclist.

“It tends to be the greatest frustration,” Gaukler said. “This gives us some ability to not only educate, but also enforce. Is it easy? Heck no. But we need a way to say what’s expected.”

The amended ordinance would also address the city’s skatepark, primarily by allowing scooters and making helmets optional for adults. The use of BMX bikes on the skatepark would remain illegal under the proposed changes.

“There is a lot of desire to allow the BMX and trick-style bikes, but we can’t do that under our current insurance coverage unless we do totally separate hours,” Gaukler said. “The skaters aren’t interested in totally separate hours.”

While the consumption of alcohol would remain illegal in most city parks, the City Council will consider making exceptions in a number of select locations under the recommendations forwarded by the parks department.

Beer, wine and hard cider would be permitted in a number of locations, so long as the individual is old enough to consume alcohol under state law and has received a permit from the city.

Liquor would also be permitted in the Caras Park and Fort Missoula Regional Park pavilions, also with a permit and only when it’s served by a caterer who possesses a state license.

“We’re increasing the places you can consume and the process you go through to legally consume,” said Gaukler. “It’s trying to find that balance. We still don’t allow the consumption of alcohol on commuter trails.”City Council will consider the proposed changes at its June 17 public hearing.

“It seems like a pragmatic, common-sense ordinance,” said council member Gwen Jones.