Friday, March 20,–Assateague State Park Going Dry Unless You Have Permit

ASSATEAGUE – Having a couple of beers or sharing a bottle of wine while enjoying Assateague Island State Park has long been a favorite pastime for locals and visitors alike, but like many other recreational pursuits, the custom will soon be prohibited.

State officials announced this week the Maryland Park Service (MPS) will begin phasing in new restrictions regarding the consumption of alcohol in all state parks, including Assateague, later this month with a total ban without a permit except in certain designated areas. Effective March 31, the consumption or possession of an open container of alcohol of any kind will be prohibited in all Maryland State Park day-use areas, beach areas and other areas with picnic tables not associated with a designated shelter or campground area unless a permit has been issued.

The new prohibitions on alcohol consumption in the state parks will become more stringent in November when the ban is extended to all areas of the state parks with the exception of full-service cabins unless an alcohol permit has been issued. The new regulations are designed to increase safety in Maryland’s parks and bring the state’s alcohol policy in line with that of parks in neighboring states.

“We want to ensure a quality experience for all state park visitors and protect the family atmosphere of Maryland state parks,” said MPS Superintendent Nita Settina. “This new policy will increase the safety of visitors, state park staff and Maryland Natural Resources Police officers.”

The new alcohol prohibition in Assateague State Park and other state parks across Maryland will be phased in to lessen the blow for long-time visitors accustomed to bringing beer, wine or other alcoholic beverages with them. In the first phase, which becomes effective March 31, alcoholic beverages of any kind will be prohibited in all day-use areas, beaches and many other areas unless an alcohol permit has been issued. The alcohol permits will cost $35 and be issued by park officials. Alcoholic beverages will also be prohibited in all youth group camping areas.

However, they will be permitted in campgrounds, shelters and full-service cabins in the state parks and those with a valid reservation for a campsite, cabin or shelter will be considered to have an alcohol permit. In addition, alcohol permits may be issued upon request by the park manager for special events under the guidelines of a use-agreement. Any and all permits issued must be displayed on-site according to the new regulations.

While the somewhat limited prohibition will be in place throughout the spring, summer and early fall, a far more stringent ban will go into place on Nov. 1 when the ban is extended to all areas of the state parks with the exception of full-service cabins unless an alcohol permit has been issued. In both cases, the park manager or a Natural Resources Police (NRP) officer may revoke an alcohol permit at any time for cause.

While consumption or possession of alcohol will be prohibited without a permit in just about every area of the state parks, visitors will be able to transport alcoholic beverages through the parks to areas where alcohol is permitted such as a boat ramp or a designated shelter.

MPS officials said this week they are aware of the dramatic changes to the alcohol policy and will work with the public in the first phase. The initial goal of enforcing the new regulations is to maximize voluntary compliance. NRP officer will monitor all park properties with a special focus on the day-use areas, campgrounds and other areas where alcohol has been previously permitted to detect and address violations.

In many cases, at least early on, NRP officers or park officials will advise visitors in possession of alcohol in non-permitted areas to remove the beverages from the park or secure them in a locked vehicle. According to state park officials, rangers and MPS staff will, in the absence of extenuating circumstances such as obvious intoxication, disorderly conduct or other illegal or unsafe activity, make those in violation aware of the new restrictions and request they voluntarily comply with them.

While Assateague State Park moves forward with an eventual ban of alcohol in almost all areas, no rule changes are proposed in neighboring Assateague Island National Seashore (AINS). Chief Ranger Ted Morlock said this week the national park’s existing rules regarding alcoholic beverages would remain in place.

“We do allow alcohol consumption in the national park on the Maryland end, but it’s important to remember we have and will continue to strictly enforce all applicable state and federal laws regarding alcohol,” he said. “Can people bring in a couple of beers or share a bottle of wine with dinner? Yes, but they have to remember to obey all other rules regarding alcohol consumption. The rules are the same as anywhere else, people just have to remember to drink responsibly.”

Morlock said AINS experiences the same problems associated with alcohol as other areas including the state parks.

“We focus our enforcement efforts on many of the common problems including underage drinking, public intoxication, open containers in vehicles and, of course, driving while intoxicated,” he said.