Having a beer with friends in one of Bend’s parks may soon get more cumbersome and expensive, if a rule change proposed by the Bend Park & Recreation District is approved.

The park district is considering updating its alcohol permit requirements to require permit-seekers to provide proof of insurance and to rent a facility, a change that would eliminate free alcohol permits for small, impromptu gatherings in public parks.

Sasha Sulia, superintendent of park operations for the district, said the change would reduce confusion by providing a more even-handed approach to drinking in public parks, while reducing the park district’s liability for any misbehavior.

“As Bend gets bigger and things start to change, we’re just trying to be more consistent,” Sulia said.

Sulia added that the change wouldn’t affect large, recurring events where alcohol is sold and distributed. The change would largely affect smaller, informal gatherings, as people who can currently get a permit to drink by showing a driver’s license would be required to provide proof of insurance and to spend at least $40 to rent a picnic area or other facility.

“I think, for us, it was just about the inconsistency,” Sulia said.

In 2011, the park district took over management of the permit system that guides alcohol consumption in the district’s parks, picnic shelters and other facilities, which was previously handled by the Bend Police Department. Currently, the district’s permit covers private and commercial events at rented facilities, while also allowing individuals or small groups to drink alcohol at parks and facilities that are not rented.

Sulia said a variety of groups, ranging from rec-league teams looking to have a beer after practice to couples looking to drink a glass of wine in Drake Park without running afoul of Bend’s open container laws, have taken the opportunity to pick up a free permit in the past. She added that the approach is unique among park and recreation agencies in Oregon.

Sulia also noted that a handful of park users have picked up permits to drink in every park along the Deschutes River during a single day.

Overall, 29 percent of the approximately 600 alcohol permits issued by the park district in the last two years have been for gatherings without a facility rental, according to data from the district.

However, Sulia said most park facility rentals require proof of insurance, while nonrental permits do not. This approach has caused confusion, especially among tourists, about where and when they can drink alcohol. The proposed change would simplify the rules for the park district’s stewards, according to Sulia.

Additionally, the current approach caused concern that the park district could be liable for misbehavior or accidents that occur when the district doesn’t ask for insurance.

“It’s not wise for us to just hand out permits without checking out insurance,” Sulia said.

While Sulia said there hadn’t been a specific incident that prompted the change, she noted that there have been about 1,300 incidents where stewards have caught people drinking in park facilities without a permit. The vast majority, she noted, didn’t even realize that the district requires permits. When park stewards find someone drinking without a permit, they ask them to pour the drink out or leave the park, Sulia said.

“We’re not going out looking for people drinking alcohol,” Sulia said.

If the proposal moves forward, all permits will be tied to facility rentals.

Sulia said rental costs vary depending on the size of group and the space being rented, but renting a covered picnic area for a group of 10 or fewer people costs $40 for one day.

The park district’s board of directors will discuss the proposal during a meeting on Tuesday evening.

Brady Fuller, board chairman, said no decision will be made Tuesday.

— Reporter: 541-617-7818, shamway@bendbulletin.com