By ANGELA H. HILL
The Franklin County Board of Supervisors approved a handful of changes to the county’s Parks and Recreation policies at the supervisors’ June 18 meeting. The policy manual was last updated in 2013. Parks officials spent eight months on the recent updates and clarifications.
Of note are three significant changes. A new tobacco and electronic cigarette policy expands the current non-smoking preference to designate parks as tobacco-free.
An update to the disciplinary action policy now differentiates and strengthens penalties for unsportsmanlike behavior from leaders, participants and spectators.
The third change is an updated alcohol use and serving policy that allows the option for alcohol to be served at parks-managed events with the proper permit.
Regarding the tobacco-free policy, Parks and Rec Director Paul Chapman said it’s not a drastic change from the current preference that park patrons don’t smoke or use e-cigarettes around athletic fields and the bleachers during games. Parks staff asks patrons to use the parking lots as smoking areas.
The main change will come with signs posted, beginning this summer. The use of tobacco in open spaces such as park properties is not a criminal offense under the policy change.
“There’s no ticket or anything,” Chapman said. “It’s just that the Recreation Advisory Committee felt strongly about promoting healthy, active lifestyles.” He added that the policy brings Franklin County in line with park policies across the country. Nearly 74% of parks are now tobacco-free, he added, and many parks discourage e-cigarette use as well.
The second change comes in the disciplinary action policy, which was updated to differentiate and strengthen penalties. Chapman explained that under the old policy, infractions such as fighting did not carry different penalties according to whether those involved were children participating in parks programs, coaches or spectators.
The policy now lays out different disciplinary actions for leaders, spectators, and participants in the categories of adults 18 and older and children 17 and under.
The third change allows the option for alcohol to be served at county-managed events with the proper Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority permit. Chapman said this option applies only to specific events and does not allow for alcohol to be brought to and consumed on park grounds by park patrons during regular park usage.
For example, a Parks-sponsored music festival or adult mountain-bike race may include a microbrew beer vendor as part of its refreshments lineup, he explained. Nothing is planned or on the books so far, he added, but this gives the department that option for future events.
“Before, alcohol wasn’t allowed in parks at all,” Chapman said. “There was no differentiation between [serving at] county events and [consumption by] the general public.”
The policy also states that alcohol cannot be served where it may interfere with general park usage or is easily visible by the public, especially minors. The new policy does not change the current guidelines for Essig Recreation Center, which is the only location where the general public can serve alcohol (with an ABC permit) when renting the center.
Before the board voted to pass the policy, Ronnie Thompson, supervisor for the Boone District, confirmed details on the change.
“My main concern is that we still had everything in effect; that there’s no alcohol allowed in parks unless at a specific event, advertised as such, prior to it happening, and the proper permits have been obtained,” Thompson said. “I want to make sure we are respectful and mindful of everyone, and make sure Parks is in compliance with the religious aspects [of the community].”
Chapman said that, if anything, the policy wording has now been tightened so that it clearly states alcohol should never be served in public view and around minors.
“We’re very much aware of those concerns,” he told the board, noting that he agrees with Thompson’s points about being mindful.