July 8, 2013 Updated: July 8, 2013 at 8:00 pm
On too many occasions, Colorado Springs parks employees have found mounds of cigarette butts in city parks.
Those tossed butts present a fire danger, said Karen Palus, the city's director of parks, recreation and cultural services. She believes that people smoking in city parks are making an unhealthy environment for the rest of the park-goers.
Palus asked the City Council Monday to ban smoking in all city parks, with the exception of two public cemeteries and two public golf courses.
The move is intended to ensure health, safety and welfare of the city's residents and visitors, Palus said.
"The intent of the proposal is to reduce the detrimental health impacts of secondhand smoke on citizens, to provide the full enjoyment of the recreational aspects of parks facilities, to reduce litter and to protect the city's park and recreation properties from the extreme fire danger in the Pikes Peak region," the proposal said.
The issue goes before the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Advisory Board Thursday and is expected to go back to the city council for a vote July 23.
Under the proposal, smoking in the park could get a person a $500 fine or up to 90 days in jail, the same as smoking inside public facilities where smoking is not allowed.
But Palus said the city would roll out an intensive educational campaign and hopes that residents self-police.
Other cities, including Commerce City and Arvada, have banned smoking in parks. In Boulder, the city recently banned smoking along Pearl Street, its downtown corridor. In recent months there has been a backlash against the Boulder no-smoking policy from homeless residents who say they are disproportionately ticketed, according to a June 8 Daily Camera article.
Bob Holmes, executive director of Homeward Pikes Peak, a homeless outreach program, doesn't buy that argument. He said the proposed Colorado Springs policy treats everyone fairly.
"I absolutely don't think is it singling out homeless individuals," he said.
A Colorado Springs smoking ban for parks first came up in October 2012 when Mayor Steve Bach put forward his desire to ban smoking in Acacia Park. He said back then he would ask the city attorney to research the issue.
His idea of no-smoking in Acacia Park, which is at the corner of Tejon Street and Platte Avenue, is part of a larger vision that he dubbed a downtown renaissance. Some of his ideas have been acted on including installing downtown surveillance cameras and LED lights along Tejon Street and Acacia Park. Bach said, then, he was concerned that residents were leery of spending time in Acacia Park and believed a smoking ban might help attract more people downtown.
Palus said the city looked at variations of the ban, including just banning smoking in some of the city's parks or by geographic area, like Boulder. But a blanket ban is the best with some designated smoking areas in some parks, she said.
She estimates the city would spend about $8,000 making no-smoking signs, but said it could be done within the existing parks budget.
"We have heard from a lot of (park) users about their health concerns," Palus said. "They are headed down trails and someone is smoking and it interferes with their ability to enjoy the park."