Regulations for city parks are only as good as the enforcement that backs them up, a Bethlehem resident reminded a City Council committee that is updating those regulations on Tuesday night.
The regulations that already exist are not being enforced in the city’s Saucon Park, resident Gerry Gore told five of the seven members of City Council members in Town Hall.
Gore, who lives near that park, complained about trash, noise, fires “all over the place” and the use of alcohol in the park – including drinking by softball teams.
“It’s a horrific mess at times,” he said, adding enforcement is almost non-existent.
Cars along the roadways are not only double-parked but triple-parked, said Gore. “Ninety percent of the license plates are from New York State or New Jersey.”
Saucon Park is near the Route 412/Interstate 78 interchange in south Bethlehem.
Gore claimed some people arrive at the park around sunrise and stay until evening.
He said people tube, swim and even bathe in Saucon Creek, which runs through the park. “It’s all prohibited but, unfortunately, it’s not enforced.”
He noted the park should belong to the city’s taxpayers, but said, “Many of our neighbors have told us they are in fear of even going down into the park.”
Gore made his comments to City Council’s parks and public property committee, which discussed updating the city’s park rules for more than 90 minutes Tuesday.
That update would allow alcohol consumption only in designated pavilions at Saucon Park, as well as two others in the city.
But Gore was skeptical that people will limit drinking to the pavilions.
Confirming some of Gore’s comments, City Council member Michael Recchiuti said Saucon Park often is a mess by Mondays.
Recchiuti said both he and Council president J. William Reynolds attended a child’s birthday party in the park a few weeks ago and “we commented about the blatant rules violations we saw going on.”
“It was all New York cars and New Jersey cars,” said Recchiuti. “I was surprised.”
He also was surprised to see many people swimming in Saucon Creek in the park, saying “there were about 50 people in the water.”
Recchiuti said he was a lifeguard at Saucon Park’s pool in the 1990s “and I can tell you it wasn’t that way then. There was a different atmosphere in the park. It was crowded, but I don’t think it was as much of a mess and as much of a nuisance as it’s turned into now.
“The city is limited with what they can do with enforcement, but that’s one concern we really have to look at – for that park in particular.”
“I’m going to start calling the police,” said Gore after the meeting.
He mentioned there also are problems with people at the parks trespassing onto private property.
“The first step to better enforcement is a better ordinance to have as an enforcement tool,” said Ralph Carp, the city’s parks & public property director.
“This is the path to better enforcement. The police won’t enforce what they don’t see on paper.”
The city had a couple of park guards in the past, but Carp indicated they did not have any authority except to call police if people did not listen to them. “They were just watchdogs -- eyes and ears.” He said those positions were taken out of the city budget many years ago so more police officers could be hired.
Recchiuti said he’s not sure who enforces the city’s park ordinance, adding: “I’m guessing police do when there’s a disturbance in a park, but I don’t think they have a lot of people out there actively looking for violations.”