Government watch: Park regs target weapons and wildlife.

10/01/2013 4:18 PM

10/01/2013 4:19 PM

Thinking of heading to Antioch Park to feed the geese? Or maybe you need a place to release that pesky raccoon you trapped near your garden.

Think again. These activities will become illegal under the new proposed rules for Johnson County parks.

On the other hand, park-goers will be able to openly carry a gun in county parks, according to the rules proposed by the county park board.

The measures on wildlife and weapons are the most substantive changes in an update of the park rules that will be considered Thursday by the Johnson County Commission. Otherwise, changes are routine revisions in the parks code, which was last updated in 2007.

The parks already have signs asking visitors not to feed the animals. The change means that eventually — perhaps next summer — people who ignore this rule can be written up and fined as much as $50 for a first offense.

Park officials will begin a six-month effort to educate the public before that happens, said Matt Garrett, field biologist for the parks department.

“We want people out using the parks. We love having people coming out and seeing the wildlife,” he said.

But too much love from the public, in the form of bags of bread and peanuts, is a bad thing for the geese, chipmunks and raccoons the public might encounter, he said. “When they get fed, they can get pretty aggressive,” Garrett said. A disappointed goose is big enough to knock down a toddler whose parents didn’t bring along some bread. There have been cases of emboldened raccoons approaching players on the ball fields for a handout, he said.

Those handouts attract Canada geese, which is problematic because of the large amount of waste they generate. “They’re congregating there because people feed them,” Garrett said.

Parks officials are trying to keep the goose population at a manageable level, he said.

Dropping off an animal from a live trap at county parks is also a bad idea, Garrett said. For one thing, it can spread disease. For another, it upsets the balance in the park as the relocated animals compete for food and possibly become aggressive.

The change on guns in the park is meant to make the park rules consistent with a recent state attorney general’s opinion allowing open carry in public places, said Dan Field, parks police chief. Guns had been prohibited in the parks.

Although people could carry weapons in to a park under the new rules, firing them would still be prohibited, Field said. Anyone who claimed self defense would still have to submit to an investigation by law enforcement officers.

Park buildings still are allowed to post signs barring concealed weapons. That much won’t change in the near future. County officials are considering how to respond to a new state law that requires public buildings that bar concealed carry to provide other security checks at the doors.

One other rules change would allow the use of crossbows once a crossbow target shooting range has been built. Hunters have asked for someplace to practice crossbow shooting now that it is legal in Kansas. But the crossbow shots tend to tear up targets meant for other bows, Field said. The county parks department hopes to build a crossbow range in the next five to seven years.

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