With the end of Maryland’s COVID-19 state of emergency on Thursday came an end to a program some Montgomery County residents had come to enjoy: the ability to drink alcohol in some local parks.
In September 2020, as COVID-19 took hold of the region, Montgomery County for the first time allowed people to consume alcohol in several parks, part of an initiative to support struggling restaurants during the pandemic.
After a successful trial, the Planning Board renewed the program for another year.
But the county Parks Department announced Wednesday that the program would end on Thursday with the Maryland state of emergency. The ending of the state of emergency reinstates several laws that were suspended during the pandemic, including the flexibility for jurisdictions to not enforce open container laws.
Parks Director Mike Riley told the Planning Board Thursday morning that he is working with the county’s Alcohol Beverage Services to determine if there are any “special permits” that could be granted to allow the alcohol consumption to resume in parks.
He said county leaders are also working with state lawmakers to consider a change to Maryland laws that would exempt the Parks Department from the state’s open container law “in certain areas or certain instances.”
“This is a pause,” Riley said. “We are not giving up on this program. … I was not happy to do this but felt like I really had to do this.”
The parks in which alcohol consumption was allowed were:
• Carroll Knolls Local Park
• Elm Street Urban Park
• Ellsworth Urban Park
• Flower Avenue Urban Park
• Acorn Urban Park
• Germantown Town Center Urban Park
• Jessup Blair Local Park
• Norwood Local Park
• Olney Manor Recreational Park
• Takoma Urban Park
• Wall Local Park
• Wheaton Local Park
• Wheaton Regional Park
When the Planning Board first considered the proposal last year, some community members spoke out against it, concerned it would increase excessive alcohol consumption, car crashes and underage drinking. Others said it could increase disorderly conduct and littering.
But Riley told Planning Board members on Thursday that there have been no “significant incidents” and feedback about the program has been mostly positive.