Longmont gets pushback in trying to enforce rules, regulations in city parks and nature areas


Longmont’s staff has been getting pushback from some visitors to city parks, open spaces and nature areas when they are told of the rules and regulations that normally apply to those areas as well as those that have been put in place to try to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

During a Tuesday night City Council study session, officials discussed how Longmont is trying to manage the use and prevent the abuse of its outdoors parks and open space areas. Councilwoman Joan Peck said staff has done “an incredible job” in working to protect those city-owned areas and the visitors.

However, Longmont Council members are still getting many complaints about others not observing the city’s ongoing rules and regulations and state and county health department’s restrictions, conditions and guidelines about social distancing, facial coverings and crowd-size limits during the pandemic.

Councilman Tim Waters reported hearing that staff enforcing rules in parks are being subjected to visitor responses that he said “are unprecedented.”

“We don’t know” how long the pandemic will last or whether there will be future surges in the disease, Peck said, and based on staff reports, there are not enough people on the city payroll now to help enforce the rules in parks, open space and nature areas and greenways.

Peck asked whether staff has considered creating a corps of citizen volunteers to assist its park rangers and police in distributing literature and telling parks and open space visitors about what the rules are, and why they were put into place.

“We’re trying to encourage the community to help solve these problems,” said David Bell, the city’s parks and natural resources director.

However, a crew of citizen volunteers would have to undergo training, Bell said, because “when they put that (city) shirt on” they represent the city.

Bell said he’d be cautious about having people other than city staff or police officers perform chores that potentially would include telling people they’re violating the rules — particularly at a time when some members of the public are reacting negatively to such information about what government permits, prohibits or is advising.

He said his personal feeling is that reaction is because during the pandemic, “people are being told what to do every day” — whether they have to or should stay at home, whether they should wear masks when they’re not at home, and how far apart they should stay from one another.

That can lead into a reaction, for example, of someone asking a ranger: “Is my dog off the leash really the problem?” Bell said.

“I don’t want to set these people up for failure,” he said of forming a volunteer unit.

Councilwoman Susie Hidalgo-Fahring asked if the city could do something more immediately than forming a volunteers corps, such as putting up more signs spelling out the rules and regulations.

City Manager Harold Dominguez said that may not have the desired impact. He noted that after Longmont closed a pedestrian bridge that spans the St. Vrain River in the Dickens Farm Nature Area because of people repeatedly and unsafely jumping from the bridge into the water, some visitors still reportedly climbed over the barricaded bridge entrance to jump.

Waters said Bell had sent Council an email prior to Tuesday night’s meeting — a copy of which was not immediately available — about the extent of vandalism in city parks this year.

That email contained “very disappointing information,” Waters said, calling for “some public disclosure” about what damage has been done, and where.

Longmont’s Public Safety Department, in a Facebook posting last week about someone having set off fireworks in a Sandstone Ranch Overlook bathroom, estimated that Longmont parks have weathered $57,000 in vandalism damage since the start of 2020.

That’s a problem that has an impact on the public, and Longmont should invite the public to become involved in coming up with a solution, Waters said Tuesday night.

Dominguez said the city has been “chasing many issues in many locations” but that Longmont isn’t unique in experiencing problems that have arisen as people flock to outdoors areas during the pandemic. He said that in talking to his administrator counterparts around the Front Range, every city is encountering such situations.

Longmont officials have said they’ll focus on an approach of education and outreach, rather than writing tickets to people breaking rules in the city’s parks and natural areas.

“I think the staff has one a great job,” Bell said, and “the community has done a great job helping us deal with these issues.