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Dolph Park Use Curbed Temporarily

Dolph Park Use Curbed Temporarily image
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City Council has taken what no one denies is an extreme action in closing a portion of the Westside Dolph Park because of rowdyism. Council voted 7-3 Monday night to halt open public use of a section of the park located in Scio Township. The closure, which no one liked and some felt was the wrong approach, will be effective until some means can be developed to control use of that area. During a public hearing on the matter several residents of the Sister Lakes area, where the park is situated, complained that overuse of the park has created a nuisance. "At one time I wasn't afraid to walk through the park at 10 or 11 at night," said Sue Gibson, 591 S. Wagner Road. "But now I wouldn't walk through it during the day." She told council of gang fights occurring in the now restricted area and a woman who was attacked by a dog. “I’m getting to the point where 4 a.m. is too late to keep getting up to call the police to calm down the kids," she added. But violence is not the only reason for the closing. George Owers, superintendent of Parks and Recreation for the city, told council heavy foot and motor bike traffic has created ruts in an area that is supposed to be a wildlife sanctuary. A small beach area, reportedly the site of "skinny-dipping" parties, has suffered from soil erosion, Owers said. The closure is not only the result of the rowdyism, but also the result of the inability of the city, Scio Township and the Sheriff's Department to deal with the problem. The affected portion of Dolph is in Scio Township, where city police have no jurisdiction. The city's park rules prohibit the types of activities the residents complained of, but those rules have no legal force without being adopted by the township, which has failed to do so. This leaves enforcement of state criminal laws in the park in the hands of the Sheriff's Department, but residents have not been satisfied with the response of the county police. As Lakewood subdivision resident Hazen Schumacher told council, "We're a victim of problems falling between the cracks of intergovernmental jurisdictions." The closing, effective immediately, carries with it the posting of "no trespassing" signs on the property. Sheriff's police are also being requested to arrest trespassers. The area will be open to persons obtaining free special use permits from the Parks and Recreation Department. But Owers noted the permits will allow only activities set forth in the ineffective rules, principally wildlife observation. The portion of Dolph Park located inside the city limits will remain open to the general public. The closing was greeted unenthusiastically by all council members, but the majority eventually held that it was the only solution to the problem. The final solution may have to wait until the city can get the parkland annexed to place it under the jurisdiction of city police, but this could take some time. The issue also came up before the Scio Township board Monday night, and township Supr. Robert Jones suggested another solution. He said the city could deed the property back to the township so it could enforce the rules and regulations by using sheriff's patrols. "The city would like the township to annex the property to the city so they could go in and enforce city laws," Jones said. "But, if we did, only half would be annexed and people could move around to the other side of the lake to enter and the city police couldn't do anything." No target date for reopening the township portion of the park has been set, but Owers expressed hope some arrangement can be made by next summer with Scio and the Sheriff’s Department for a reopening. The closing met opposition from Democratic and Human Rights council members, who argued it was too strict an action and probably would not deter the people who previously used the park illegally. They supported a substitute measure to close the park at sunset, but this proposal lost out on a 5-5 vote, with Democratic Mayor Albert H. Wheeler joining four Republicans to defeat it. Opposing votes to the closing came from council members Carol Jones, Kathleen Kozachenko, and James Kenworthy.