Bill could expand alcohol licensure, bypass local board

If a bill being considered by the Indiana General Assembly becomes law, state parks could seek alcohol permits directly from the state, bypassing local alcoholic beverage commissions.

House Bill 1386 has been linked by some opponents to Indiana Dunes State Park outside Chesterton, where no alcohol is currently allowed. However, it would apply to any state park, including Brown County State Park.

Currently, alcohol permits for state parks are subject to review by a local alcohol and beverage commission. They also are counted under quotas restricting the total number of permits for an area based on population.

Each state park inn now has a “three-way” permit for catering to serve alcohol on their premises to guests of events, such as wedding receptions or meetings, said Indiana Department of Natural Resources Communications Director Phil Bloom.

A three-way permit allows for the sale of beer, wine and liquor.

Under the new legislation, the DNR could seek any kind of three-way permit — including retail alcohol sales and serving at dining facilities — and it would apply to the entire park, rather than a single location on the property.

Bloom said the change could offer a greater degree of control over alcohol in parks.

As an example, consider a wedding at a park shelter. Under existing rules, the organizers of the event, such as the families of a couple being married, would apply to the local ABC board for a one-day permit to serve alcohol.

The event organizers would be responsible for ensuring that no underage drinking took place and that other restrictions were observed, Bloom said.

In contrast, a park with a permit that covered the entire property could designate which areas could have alcohol service, and when, Bloom said. DNR staff would be in charge of dispensing any alcohol, as they currently are at the inns.

Bloom said allowing the DNR to apply directly to the state instead of seeking permits through a local ABC board is not unprecedented. The state fairgrounds can already seek a permit directly from the state, he said.

The only place in Brown County State Park where alcohol is currently served is at Abe Martin Lodge, and only during events where it is specifically requested, Bloom said.

The event location — whether it is a tent on the back lawn or a conference room inside the lodge — is the only place it is allowed, he said. Guests are not allowed to take their drinks with them if they leave that space.

However, guests in campgrounds are allowed to have alcohol, though they must purchase it from retailers outside the park.

Outside of overnight guests in the campgrounds and those participating in catered events at the lodge, visitors are not allowed to possess alcohol.

Brown County State Park Property Manager Doug Baird said most disturbances at the campgrounds probably involve alcohol, but the problems are infrequent and rarely serious.

“Most people handle it just fine, don’t cause any issues,” Baird said.

The campground general store does not sell alcohol, Baird said. “I don’t know that I’d say that would be a good idea,” he said.

Given the size of the park — which is visited by 1.3 million people annually — there are relatively few incidents involving alcohol, said Assistant Property Manager Kevin Snyder.

“We just ask that they be responsible with it, don’t overindulge, be careful,” Snyder said. “Everybody has to keep in mind that there’s other people around them. Other people want to have a good time.”

Ben Kibbey is a Brown County transplant from the cornfields of central Ohio. He covers county government, business, outdoors, sports and general news.