Bethlehem plans to update city park rules
Did you know you're allowed to kill venomous snakes in Bethlehem's city parks --- but you should not throw balls or Frisbees, wade in streams, climb trees, walk your dog or ride your bicycle on trails?
Saying many of Bethlehem's park rules are antiquated, City Council member Karen Dolan tore into them Tuesday night.
She said it is time for a large scale overhaul of the city's park ordinance containing those rules.
"There's no signage that supports 90 percent of what's in here," she said of the ordinance.
Dolan, who chairs council's parks and public property committee, hopes by summer the full City Council will approve an updated parks ordinance.
She said Ralph Carp, Bethlehem's parks and public property director, has been trying for years to get City Council to take a fresh look at city park rules.
"This is the governing ordinance for the operation of all city parks," Carp told the committee. "The last time I can identify a full comprehensive update of this was roughly around 1976.
"Times have changed. People's recreational needs and likes have changed. Many areas of the ordinance are not in step with the times or with the desires of residents and users of the parks."
Dolan said the next step in the process will be for her committee to hold at least one public work session on park rules, where members will sit around a table "and hammer out some changes" in a conference room rather than on the dais in Town Hall. She hopes that work session that can be held later this month.
She said the city's recreation commission already has weighed in on needed changes in the park ordinance at least a year ago, but a decision was made to delay action until the new city administration took over in January.
Carp suggested the recreation commission also might want to take a fresh look at the ordinance. Jane Persa, the city's recreation administrator, agreed, saying the recreation commission has a couple of new members. She said that commission will next meet on April 17.
Dolan challenged language in the ordinance that states no animals may be killed in parks, except snakes "known to be deadly poisonous," which can be killed on sight.
"I don't think that's even legal," said Dolan. She said most people don't know which snakes are deadly and which are not. She claimed killing snakes on sight no longer is acceptable under current environmental laws.
Dolan questioned language in the ordinance that prohibits climbing a tree or sitting on a wall in a city park.
Another rule prohibits playing "any games involving thrown or otherwise propelled objects such as balls, quoits, stones, arrows, javelins or model airplanes, except in areas set apart for such forms of recreation."
"There's definitely a difference between a ball and an arrow," said Dolan. "I see people tossing baseballs back and forth at picnics all the time."
She also claimed when the rules were drawn up there were no Frisbee flying discs, although they have been popular since the early 1960s.
She also sees horseshoes being played in parks, but the rules are silent about them.
The rules prohibit swimming or wading in any park waters. Dolan noted anglers wade in streams, as do families with children in hot weather, which she considers a good amenity to have in the city.
Dolan said the rules prohibit boating, but said she sees people kayaking and rafting down Monocacy Creek, which means "you are going to come through a park. That happens several times a week during warm weather."
The rules also state bicycles should be confined to park roads and that people can only walk their bikes on wooded trails. Dolan recommended shared use of trails for joggers, pedestrians and cycling.
The rules state dogs are allowed only in areas with signs that state: "Domestic Animals Permitted in This Area."
"There are dogs on leashes in all the parks," said the council member.
She said people are allowed to picnic or lunch only in designated park areas but added: "I'm not sure what places are designated or not designated."
The rules prohibit alcoholic beverages in any city park, except Illick's Mill ---Dolan said that should be Monocacy Park -- Saucon and South Mountain.
Even then, alcoholic beverage use is limited to malt or brewed beverages: beer, ale and malt liquor.
Dolan believes people should be allowed to take bottles of wine into parks.
She also said the city is losing a steady source of rental income to hold events, such as wedding receptions, by not allowing alcoholic beverages in the Ice House on Sand Island.
"The only reason they're not happening is because when they go to sign a contract, they're told they can have no alcoholic beverages."
She challenged park rules prohibiting gambling or games of chance; forbidding people from sleeping or lounging on seats, benches and other park areas, and not allowing loud or boisterous conduct.
"People come to the parks during the day time specifically to take naps and rest," said Dolan. "And when kids are going down the creek in tubes, it's loud and it's boisterous - it's good."
She said the rules state park attendants have the authority to regulate activities, but the parks don't have attendants.
Dolan said the definition of "parks" in the ordinance should include trails and greenways and that more emphasis should be placed on recycling in regard to park trash rules.
Council member Cathy Reuscher, who is not on Dolan's committee but attended the meeting, told her: "I agree wholeheartedly with all of your suggestions."
More money from Musikfest
In other business, Dolan's committee recommended new permit agreements with organizers of Musikfest, the city's annual summer music festival, for 2014 through 2016.
Atty. William Leeson, Bethlehem's city solicitor, said one of the major changes in the new agreements is a gradually increasing contribution by Musikfest for non-uniformed services provided by the city for the festival.
Leeson said that figure was $110,000 for each of the last three years.
Under the new agreements, it will be $110,000 in 2014, $115,000 in 2015 and $120,000 in 2016.
Those non-uniformed services include garbage pickup, street cleaning, sign erection and removal, electrical labor, water and sewage treatment costs and installation of temporary fencing.
Leeson said another new feature in the permits is that the festival's organizers will pay Bethlehem an ambulance and EMS crew to provide services, rather than paying for private EMS services.
The solicitor said Musikfest operators are amenable to the changes, as is the city's administrative staff and controller.
Dolan's three-member committee unanimously recommended that the full council adopt the Musikfest permit agreements but council did not take action on them when it met an hour later Wednesday.
Attending the committee meeting were Jeffrey Parks, president of ArtsQuest, which does Musikfest, and Kassie Hilgert, ArtsQuest's senior vice president of marketing and advancement.
Council member Bryan Callahan told them: "People can look back at the beginning of Musikfest as a renewal and revival in the city of Bethlehem. A lot of things changed when you guys started that festival. I congratulate you and thank you for all the work you've done over the years."
The first Musikfest was in August 1984. This year's festival will be Aug. 1-10.
Parks expressed concern that construction work on Route 412, a major entranceway into the city, still isn't finished. "Hopefully that will be rectified --- soon?" he said.
"I wish I could make promises to you along those lines," replied Dolan.
She said a much better relationship exists between ArtsQuest and the city than in years past and thanked Parks for keeping Musikfest in Bethlehem, rather than moving it "to some field out in Saucon Valley as you once threatened."
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