CONNEAUT LAKE — “That would be stupid!” exclaimed Pittsburgh’s Sue Goetz when she learned that Conneaut Lake Park is banning alcohol from its beach.

Goetz, who was enjoying the beach Tuesday, said the move just doesn’t make financial sense. Pointing to the beachside Down Under Bar and Beach Club, both of which are owned by the park and leased to private managers, she said, “It kind of defeats the purpose of trying to make money at the park. They have DJs to pay, bartenders and live bands on Saturdays. It would hurt them if they’re trying to bring in money.”

Katie Goetz, who was with Sue, pointed out that beer on the beach is something of a park tradition. “It’s a fun time and people enjoy that,” she said.

But it stopped being fun for officials representing the amusement park when they heard words of concern from park security guards and the state Department of Health. Both expressed concern that the beach might become the site of a tragedy given that drinking was going on even as there are no lifeguards.

Initially, park officials said they tried to work out a deal to hire lifeguards with the two bars’ leaseholders, but when it fell through, they banned drinking until they can clarify what they must do by law as well as how to protect the park and its patrons from exposure to danger and lawsuits.

“It’s a liability issue,” said the park’s court-appointed overseer, LeRoy Stearns. “Alcohol, water and kids don’t mix.” He said the danger is if someone drinks to much, it could lead to a problem.

In addition to the potential for a problem with people drinking alcohol and going swimming, the danger of somebody breaking glass or leaving a beer can on the beach to get covered with sand also exists. “If a can is left and somebody gets a foot cut, it could be a liability issue,” he added.

He also pointed out the park has a longstanding rule banning alcohol from the beach, but it hasn’t been enforced.

Dale Sparber, partner with Down Under Bar and Beach Club leaseholder Conneaut Concessions, said it has been a tradition for as long as he can remember that people have been able to have a beer on the beach.

However, he said his company will abide by Stearns’ rules no matter the impact on patrons or the bottom line. The company has little recourse, he explained, because it doesn’t lease the beach. However, Sparber pointed out his company’s employees do daily maintenance work on the beach. He said the company pays people to rake the beach nearly every day, including picking up all the seaweed, debris, even cigarette butts.

Sparber estimates the maintenance cost for the three months of summer to be between $1,000 and $1,500.

Stearns agreed that Conneaut Concessions maintains the beach. “They chose to do it,” he said. However, “It’s a public beach, not a beach for their clients only.”

Conneaut Concessions partner Frank Flanegan said the state has no “open container” law, meaning people can carry an open beer anywhere the local government doesn’t specifically ban the practice.

Stearns said he approached Conneaut Concessions about splitting the cost of a lifeguard in an attempt to address the issue. He thought he had a deal, but when there was no lifeguard on duty Sunday, he imposed the booze ban. Stearns said Flanegan said he was told no lifeguard was needed because no admission was charged.

In any case, until Stearns clarifies the situation with the Department of Health and the park’s insurance carrier, the beach will go dry, at least as far as alcohol is concerned.



Jane Smith can be reached at 724-6370 or by e-mail at jsmith@meadvilletribune.com

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