OLR Research Report

May 22, 2000






By: Sandra N. Bragg, Legislative Fellow

You asked us to describe the (1) policies of Northeastern states regarding alcohol consumption in state parks and campgrounds and (2) experiences of those states that allow consumption in parks. You also asked if Maine is reconsidering its policy.


Of the seven states we contacted (six New England states and New York), only New York and Vermont allow people to consume alcohol at state park campgrounds. We were unable to obtain statistics on the number of alcohol-related incidents in New York. But Vermont has fewer than 12 per season (approximately May 1 to November 23).

According to the Bureau of Parks and Lands, Maine prohibits intoxicating beverages in state parks. But park officials allow campers to consume alcoholic beverages at their campsites. In 1999, there were 217 incidents where police officers were called in to arrest individuals. Many of these incidents were alcohol-related. The bureau is reconsidering its policy and working on stricter enforcement.


New York has three entities that oversee campgrounds. Two of these entities—the Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and the Bureau of Recreation—allow vehicles in state parks. The third entity, the Bureau of Public Lands, provides primitive camping facilities only.

The Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

The Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation has jurisdiction over 11 regional state park areas. Each region has its own alcohol policy, and nine have rules that specifically allow alcohol consumption at campgrounds (Table 1).

Table 1: New York Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Commission Regions

State Parks

Regulation Specifically Allows

Alcohol Consumption at Campsites

Niagara Frontier






Finger Lakes


Central New York




Palisades Interstate Park



Long Island


Thousand Islands


Saratoga-Capital District


State Park, Recreation and Historic Preservation

Commission for the City of New York


Source: 1999 New York Civil Rules and Regulations (NYCRR) 9 397.7 to 418.2.

The department does not maintain statistics of alcohol-related incidents that occur in state parks. But there have been problems with the policies, such as public intoxication, fighting, vandalism, and automobile accidents. According to department representative Pat Thatcher, there are no pending or proposed changes to any of the regions' alcohol policies.

Bureau of Recreation

The Bureau of Recreation has jurisdiction over 52 campgrounds located in the Catskills and the Adirondacks forest preserves. Alcohol consumption is allowed in the preserves, but there is a strict enforcement policy in effect during Memorial Day weekend. During that weekend, campers who are drinking must be prepared to show proof that they are age 21 or over, plus adhere to other campground policies and restrictions (Attachment 1). Carl Wiedemann, general manager of Forest Parks, says that in 1999 a total of 55 alcohol-related incidents occurred in the campgrounds. There is no move to ban alcohol in them.

Bureau of Public Lands

The Bureau of Public Lands has authority over primitive camping areas. “Primitive areas” are three to five miles away from public roads and do not admit vehicles. Alcohol consumption is allowed in these areas, but the bureau seldom, if ever, receives complaints about alcohol-related incidents in them. Consequently, there is no move to restrict alcohol in these areas.


Six years ago, Vermont's Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation changed its regulations to allow campers to consume limited amounts of alcoholic beverages in state parks. Once the new regulation went into effect, fewer alcohol-related incidents occurred. Larry Simino, the director of Parks and Recreation, estimates less than a dozen alcohol-related incidents per season over the past few years. There is no movement to restrict alcohol consumption in Vermont's state parks.


Maine statute gives the Bureau of Parks and Lands the authority to establish state park laws and policies. The bureau, by regulation, bans “intoxicating beverages”. But according to Steve Curtis, Maine's regional supervisor for the Bureau of Parks and Lands, park officials have allowed campers to consume alcoholic beverages at their campsites. In the 1999 season, there were 217 incidents where police officers arrested individuals. According to Curtis, many of these incidents (if not all) were alcohol-related. He says that the bureau is working on stricter enforcement of existing laws and adopting new alcohol consumption policies in state parks.


Attachment 1: Press Release from New York's Department of Environmental Conservation Dated 4/17/2000


Friday, May 5, 2000 DRAFT (518) 457-5400


The State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) will use special registration procedures at its busiest campgrounds in the Adirondacks and Catskills during the upcoming Memorial Day weekend, John P. Cahill , DEC's Commissioner, announced today.

DEC officials also will strictly enforce regulations governing possession of alcoholic beverages, he said.

“DEC wants people staying at its campgrounds to enjoy a pleasant recreational experience, so we must take extra precautions during this busy holiday weekend to ensure that crowding and alcohol use don't disrupt our woodland facilities,“ Cahill said.

Memorial Day registration restrictions will include:

Χ At all DEC campgrounds, only registered campers will be allowed into the facilities between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m.;

Χ Campers at Caroga Lake, Hearthstone Point, Northampton Beach, Moffitt Beach, Rogers Rock and Sacandaga Lake public campgrounds will be required to fill out registration forms and list each member of their camping party upon their arrival. Only those registered will be admitted to the campgrounds;

Χ At Hearthstone Point, Rogers Rock, Moffitt Beach, Northampton Beach, Sacandaga and Caroga Lake public campgrounds, ID bracelets will be issued to registered campers in an effort to curtail unauthorized entry. Campers must wear the bracelets throughout their stays. Additionally, visitors and day use of facilities at Hearthstone Point and Rogers Rock campgrounds will be prohibited.

As usual, DEC will strictly enforce regulations governing alcoholic use. No one less than 21 years old can possess alcoholic beverages within a DEC campground. Those more than 21 who possess or drink alcoholic beverages must produce adequate identification and proof of age upon demand by a campground facility supervisor, park ranger, or any peace or police officer.

Violating any campground rules or regulations is grounds for removal from the facility and reentry denial. Entry fees will not be refunded.

Copies of rules and regulations governing DEC's public campgrounds are available for inspection at the registration booth of each campground.

DEC operates 50 campgrounds in the Adirondack and Catskill forest preserves. The summer camping season begins today and generally runs through Labor Day, although some facilities will remain open during fall foliage and hunting seasons.

The State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation establishes its own rules for the campgrounds it operates in other parts of New York State.