State parks could soon sell alcohol
Bill’s opponents express concerns
The Herald Bulletin
By Maureen Hayden, CNHI State Reporter
February 4, 2016
INDIANAPOLIS — State parks have been mostly “dry” for decades, but that could change if state officials clear the
way for alcohol sales in hopes of pulling in more visitors and revenue.
Lawmakers may allow the Department of Natural Resources to secure liquor licenses for all 32 parks and reservoirs,
bypassing county alcohol boards. If the measure succeeds, the proposal could fast-track plans to expand alcohol
sales on state properties where booze has traditionally been banned.
Parks officials, who back the bill, say it allows them to respond more quickly to a growing demand from park visitors
to imbibe. Also, their venues could compete with those where alcohol is currently served.
Dan Bortner, director of the state park inns, says the bill simply expands upon what the state has already started in
securing liquor licenses for seven inns within the last few years. Those licenses are currently used for private events
at the inns, such as wedding receptions.
This measure allows the state to seek liquor licenses for another 25 state park properties. It would allow for beer,
wine, and liquor sales by the glass at all park properties.
The House passed the bill Tuesday, sending it over to the Senate for further debate.
Opponents of the bill say more drinking in the parks will lead to bad behavior and disrupt one of the parks’ best
features — the peaceful calm.
“You don’t have to have liquor everywhere,” said Pam Rearick, a Chesteron resident who has fought to keep nearby
Indiana Dunes State Park from getting a liquor license.
Last fall, the Porter County liquor board denied a license request, turning away a developer who wanted to open a
bar, restaurant and banquet facility in a historic building in the park.
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That prompted the legislation, by Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville, chairman of the House Natural Resources
Committee, creating the work-around for the Department of Natural Resources.
Eberhart’s proposal allows the state Alcohol Commission to directly grant liquor licenses to state parks for
“economic development.” The commission may grant a license for a park under the bill, even if it exceeds the limit
on licenses in the area.
The measure does not allow for carryout alcohol to be sold, for example, in camp stores. Nor does it lift the general
prohibition on park users from bringing their own alcohol to consume.
Rearick and opponents like her say they can see an influx of bars and restaurants opening in state parks, competing
against local establishments.
Bortner said he doesn’t envision that but rather sees more private events where alcohol is served.
He does concede that the Department of Natural Resources has already started talking about putting alcohol on
menus at its inns as soon as this summer, to test demand.
“If it’s controlled, we don’t see a problem with it,” he said.
Such an offering could bring more patrons, and money, at a time when the department is under pressure to
generate revenue to support its properties after several years of budget cuts.
State Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, introduced a similar, failed bill in the Senate, citing the alcohol-less Fort
Benjamin Harrison State Park in his district.
“Alcohol is an economic driver,” he said.
Already, private vendors sell alcohol in restaurants located on two state properties — at Lake Monroe and
Bortner said state officials have not experienced “massive concerns” with alcohol abuse in those places.