BULLHEAD CITY — Members of the Bullhead City Council and Parks and Recreation Commission devoted a work session to Community Park this week.
Officials agreed that Community Park and its beaches have many more people recreating in them. The park’s occupancy reaches very high numbers for more days of the year since the creation of beach area to the south in just a couple of years.
On Aug. 31, there were 1,600 vehicles at Community Park. With an average of three people in each vehicle, that would mean nearly 5,000 people were there that day, said City Manager Toby Cotter.
How to react to the increased use — and expense borne by city government — is complicated.
“We’ve opened up a lot of beach access,” Cotter said. “And it’s being used.”
Paul McDermott, director of business development at Contemporary Services Corporation, which provided summer lifeguard services along the river during past summers, made a presentation to city officials with pictures and video of incidents.
One video marked as Aug. 31 was of an overturned Jet Ski near the dock. The traffic was heavy. So heavy that it can make emergency responses “a big challenge,” McDermott said.
A lifeguard had to swim through the traffic to retrieve the watercraft because it was an obstacle in the river. One of the people who fell off the PWC was standing in the water and had to be waved toward the shore because remaining in the water among all of the other PWCs could have resulted in injury.
The launch ramp at Community Park, said McDermott, “is like rush hour.”
Another video featured a man falling off of a watercraft. The experience left him noticeably exhausted. He needed help from two officials on the river to get back on the watercraft because he was novice operator. Then there was video of several people and a dog on a sinking boat on Sept. 1. The dog was too small to swim away and one of the people had a knee problem and was unable get off the boat without assistance.
“This was a taste of what we’re talking about,” Cotter said. “These lifeguards are out there saving lives every day.”
Among ideas being considered is to increase the cost to personal water craft rental businesses for Consumer Protection Advisory Forms from $5 to $10 each. Rental businesses pay for forms up front and can pass along the cost to their customers, who are also required to watch a safety video before being able to use the PWC they are renting.
The additional charge would help pay for lifeguards in the city’s water safety program.
“The program didn’t pay for itself this year,” Cotter said.
From March to November, the forms brought $125,000 to the city — which means there were 25,000 rentals of PWCs this year.
That’s only about half of the money needed to pay for the lifeguards, Cotter said.
As proposed, however, the increase wouldn’t address other operational increases, such as the need for more of a police presence, keeping the park, beach and its facilities — such as the restrooms — clean.
The process for the city to raise the form rate could take about 90 days so Cotter advised council members that it should be dealt with quickly.
Charge for parking
Charging for parking at Community Park could raise more money to serve the increased use there.
Not doing so will require increased use of general fund money to pay for services and upkeep related to recreational uses of the river at Community Park, Cotter warned.
Mayor Tom Brady pointed out that Community Park has five entrances and exits, the newest being Laughlin Ranch Boulevard. Controlling traffic in and out of that type of a facility would require good planning by staff.
Most of members of the council and commission were satisfied with the $10 parking charge. Some thought it should be $20.
Enforcing paid parking would begin with a pilot program of about 20 extremely busy summer days.
Challenges include dealing with families coming for Little League sports, visitors wanting to go to the Visitors Center operated by the Bullhead Area Chamber of Commerce, and the need to keep traffic from having to sit along Highway 95 when many vehicles want to enter, Brady said.
It might require creating a road through the park. Brady also suggested something many people would consider foul: Installing some tire shredders.
Getting out the word about a change in parking would be important because not doing so could result in “not happy people.”
Park and Recreation Commissioner Jack Hakim, also a former city mayor, suggested that it might be better to limit parking charges to those who enter pulling a trailer because they require two spaces.
“I feel uncomfortable charging for parking at our beaches. People have waited for a long time to have a beach there,” Hakim said.
Cotter pointed out that while it would be a viable option not to charge residents, a quick way to determine that is essential to the person monitoring the vehicles when a line forms to enter the park. He suggested scanning license plates, asking for IDs or creating stickers to be placed in vehicle windows.
And on the busiest days, not many people at Community Park are locals. They go to Rotary Park or the Colorado River Nature Center instead, Cotter noted.
“It’s a beach for them,” Hakim stressed. “We produced that beach for them.”
Cotter said that perhaps having some of the visitors opt to visit the other local beaches would be a good thing because use would be better spread throughout the parks along the river.
The parking fee could be limited to weekends and holidays.
There is no time line for staff to come up with a plan for controlling the traffic in and out of Rotary Park so drivers could be charged.
Hakim and Council Member Mark Clark said that people could leave their vehicles across the highway and use the tunnel to walk to the park. Cotter said that most people likely would be willing to pay because they bring so many items with them.
Other concerns include:
Considering whether to move the No-Wake Zone now in front of Harrah’s Laughlin Hotel & Casino to a small, narrow portion of the river that’s closer to Community Park where it would provide more protection. It would be 50 feet north of the launch ramp and extend to the south end of the brand new beach where there is a lot of mixing of PWCs and people simply swimming or wading. However, this would require continued discussion with the U.S. Coast Guard but also with businesses on both sides of river before coming to the council for its approval.
Decide whether to increase the size of the current swimming zone, where people can be in the water without worrying about PWCs coming close. This spot located west of where the Bobby Sox Field once sat, is 100 feet into the channel and 150 feet across. It’s proposed to widen it 300 feet to the south and 200 feet to the north, said Dave Heath, the city Parks and Recreation superintendent. McDermott suggested it after seeing people go in and out of the river fast and very close to children.
Look at constructing a commercial ramp along the river. Construction of the ramp is budgeted for $250,000.
Update the water safety video and create versions in other languages.