Brainerd officials want more conversation on alcohol use in parks

The topic will be further discussed during a joint City Council and Parks Board workshop Feb. 27.

Council members sit in chambers
Brainerd City Council members discuss matters during their meeting Monday, Feb. 6, 2023.
Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

BRAINERD — The possibility of alcohol sales and consumption in Brainerd’s parks is still on the table, but officials have yet to decide what guidelines would look like.

City Council members discussed the matter at length Monday, Feb. 6, but opted not to take any action on proposed ordinance revisions, instead agreeing to discuss the matter further at an already-scheduled joint workshop with the Parks Board later this month.

The issue came up in December , when Parks Board members discussed the amphitheater at the new Mississippi Landing Trailhead Park on East River Road and whether events at the site might be able to have alcohol. As it stands, alcohol consumption is not allowed in city parks, with the exception of Memorial Park, where city code allows limited on-sale liquor licenses to be granted to professional baseball organizations and concession stand vendors. Under that provision, the consumption of “non-intoxicating malt liquor” is limited to vending structures and seating areas on the premises and only during scheduled adult activities.

City officials have pointed out the ordinance is rarely followed in terms of adult softball leagues at Memorial Park, as participants and spectators typically bring in their own alcohol. While council and Parks Board members spoke earlier of clearing up that provision to make sure it reflects the city’s desires, the ordinance amendment brought forth Monday night accounted only for alcohol sales in connection with event applications in the parks.

The revision would allow clubs or organizations to apply for a temporary on-sale liquor license in conjunction with an event in a park. Both the license and the event application would be subject to approval from the City Council, and the group would be allowed to contract with a caterer or other entity that already has an on-sale liquor license.


After previous discussions, City Engineer/Public Works Director Jessie Dehn said he checked with legal counsel and learned alcohol consumption would not necessarily have to be limited to a contained area, but the license holder would be responsible for the area in which they serve, and any violations like underage consumption would fall on them.

The other change proposed in the ordinance was removing the term “non-intoxicating malt liquor,” which typically refers to beverages that contain less than 0.5% alcohol by volume but is not defined by state statute, and replacing it with “alcoholic beverage.”

Council member Gabe Johnson pointed out this change still technically prohibits softball players and spectators from bringing their own drinks into Memorial Park, even though it is common practice. He also noted there is no provision for the Lum Park Campground, asking if the city were going to start enforcing an alcohol ban among campers.

Gallery-Arts in the Park (5).JPG
The annual Arts in the Park event at Gregory Park is one event during which Brainerd Parks Board members have discussed allowing alcohol sales.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

“If this is the only change we’re making, there’s a lot of uses that we’re missing,” Johnson said.

Council President Kelly Bevans said Johnson brought up a great point and suggested having more discussion prior to the first reading of the ordinance revision, which was scheduled for Monday night.

Council member Kara Terry said she would be in favor of clarifying the language around non-intoxicating malt liquor but not allowing permits for alcohol consumption in all the parks.

Council member Mike O’Day agreed with Johnson’s assessment, in that the ordinance revision only hits half the issue, which is the sale of alcohol but not bringing in and consuming alcohol during events like weddings or ball games. When he was a kid, O’Day said he recalled firefighter picnics in the parks, as his dad was a volunteer firefighter, and many of the firefighters drank during the event.

“And I don’t think we should discriminate on which parks get to have fun or not fun, as long as it’s to an extent,” O’Day said.


While Terry said she understood the idea of having fun — as she, too, attended the firefighter picnics as a child — she said she believed a good time could still happen without alcohol. Her viewpoint, she said, stemmed from conversations with concerned constituents who wanted to maintain a family-friendly environment in the parks and not have to worry about alcohol or the behaviors of those consuming it.

“And I respect that — not that you guys don’t. I’m not saying that at all,” Terry said. “This is just my opinion on the interactions with others. One constituent also said we spend a lot of money on our parks to make them family-friendly and try and provide them with family-friendly opportunities within our parks, and that can be done without the use of alcohol.”

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If alcohol consumption were to be tied to a specific permitted event or planned adult events, then O’Day said he felt the parks could still maintain their family-friendly status.

Essentially, Bevans said council members had two options. If they felt the ordinance was close to where they wanted it to be, they could approve the first reading with some changes. If they felt it was too far off, though, they could send it back for staff review before moving forward.

While there was talk about referring the matter back to the Parks Board, Kevin Yeager, who sits on the board, recapped board members’ stances and said he did not think they were equipped to tackle the ordinance themselves.

“The question that was posed to us is … ‘How do we feel about large events being an event that has alcohol use that’s usable in our parks?’” Yeager told the council Monday. “We currently allow smoking in our parks. We have rules about how close you can smoke to playgrounds — believe it or not — and those types of things. So we feel like we want as many people to enjoy our parks under a lot of different scenarios as long as it can be done safely and responsibly, period.”

Deciding they wanted to discuss the topic further, council members agreed to add alcohol use to the agenda of a joint Parks Board and City Council workshop scheduled for 6 p.m. Feb. 27.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at .

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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