Butt out

Wausau considers a smoking ban in all parks, sparked by complaints about the 400 Block.


No ifs, ands, or butts about it, Wausau is considering a smoking ban in city parks.

The Wausau City Council could ban smoking in all city parks after the Parks and Recreation Committee approved a measure Monday night doing just that.

The decision stemmed from some complaints the city had received about Concerts on the Square at the 400 Block this summer. While smokers didn’t necessarily light up in the park, clouds of smoke were wafting and cigarette butts were piling up on the sidewalks surrounding the square.

Alderperson David Nutting was perhaps the most vocal of all committee members in his opposition to smoking in city parks. Nutting described how he had taken his granddaughter to a park recently and picked up nearly 150 cigarette butts surrounding a playground area. Parks and Recreation Director Bill Duncanson says his department spends every Thursday picking up cigarette butts at every city park, whether they’re in flower planters or on the ground.

With the city budget stretched thin and law enforcement’s responsibilities at an all-time high, the committee is hoping signage would help to ensure people would follow the ordinance, rather than asking law enforcement to use its resources to actively enforce it.

“There are people who are going to violate it … but if the restriction and signage were there, you would see a reduction (in smoking),” Alderperson Tom Neal says.

The only committee member to vote against the ban was Alderperson Joe Gehin, who says he would like to see a partial ban at youth events and mass gatherings rather than an absolute ban on smoking.

The smoking ban comes in the wake of the parks committee in August making permanent rules that govern when alcohol can be consumed on the 400 Block. The committee last year prohibited alcohol consumption until after 4 pm to curb the number of day drinkers who were causing disturbances to residents and businesses near the park. The committee in August made those rules permanent but balked at a proposal to extend those rules to other parks.

Wausau wouldn’t be the first community to ban smoking in public parks. Cities such as New York City, Houston, and Minneapolis have done so in recent years. Wausau city attorneys were directed to draft an ordinance, which would come up for a vote at a future city council meeting.