MAYVILLE - Smokers will soon have fewer places to light up while visiting state parks thanks to a series of new smoke-free zones established last month.
But a smokers' rights group has recently challenged the ban, claiming the state parks department over-reached its authority to impose the regulations.
"These bans were imposed by bureaucrats' fiat, not legislative laws," said Audrey Silk, founder of CLASH (Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment), "and on that basis alone, they're unconstitutional."
Silk claims the state Legislature "repeatedly declined" to pass specific laws regarding further smoking bans within the state park system. She said 19 such bills have failed to win over state lawmakers.
The state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historical Preservation announced they would begin installing no-smoking signs this spring throughout the state park and historical system, from beach areas to concession stands and pavilions.
The push to curb smoking, while not totally eliminating it, was designed to create a healthier environment for park visitors.
"State Parks and Historic Sites should be healthy and clean places for our visitors, especially our youngest guests," said state parks Commissioner Rose Harvey in a statement. "It makes sense to ensure all visitors have a place to go in our parks to enjoy fresh air, while also protecting children playing at our pools and playgrounds from the dangers of second-hand smoke and reducing litter from discarded cigarette butts."
Silk slammed Rose for her comment, questioning the director for implying the rules were a "done deal" without going through the state's administrative procedures.
"How can state Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey release a statement that boasts about the initiation of a policy when no rule had even yet been proposed?" she asked. "And now the public is supposedly allowed to weigh in until the beginning of June when the policy was supposedly effective by the end of April?"
Regardless, at Allegany State Park, smoking will be banned at all beach areas, including Quaker, Red House and Long Point beaches. At the Bath House areas, smoking will be banned in front of the concession stands. The same goes for all cabins and cottages and facility buildings within all park systems.
At Midway State Park, smoking will be prohibited near amusement park rides, the arcade area, picnic shelters and concession area.
"It's a good policy," said Gary Quattrone, Park Manager III, Allegany Region. "It's a step in the right direction for the overall aesthetics of the parks. It targets where the children are, and it's definitely a sign of the times."
Smoking will be allowed outdoors elsewhere within the 330,000-acre state park system, including all campsites.
Those who disobey the new smoke-free zones could be cited for disorderly conduct by state park police and other law enforcement agencies.
Asked if he felt smoking would ever be completely banned within the state parks system, Quattrone said, "That's a tough question. This will target where people will be. Plus, I think it would be tough to enforce."
Quattrone said he has seen proofs of the signs that will go up later this year.