Citing noise complaints and mass gatherings that have escalated into violence, Seattle Parks and Recreation is reducing hours at two of the city’s most popular parks this summer.
Nearly all Seattle parks are open 4 a.m.-11:30 p.m. year-round, but starting May 28, Golden Gardens in Ballard and Alki Beach in West Seattle will close at 10 p.m. through Sept. 5.
Parks staff, along with Seattle police, will tamp down activity at the public beaches starting at 9:30 p.m. to address “dangerous and/or illegal behavior that has been typical of summer evenings,” the department said.
Though the reduced hours have yet to go into effect, the decision already has prompted mixed reactions. Some residents say the measure will improve safety, while others call it an overreaction that limits access to a public resource.
The two parks adopted similar hours last year through an emergency order. This year’s cutback is part of a pilot program that allows Seattle Parks to potentially make the change permanent, said spokesperson Rachel Schulkin.
The issue will be reviewed by the parks commissioners, who will likely hold public meetings in winter and spring before any vote to permanently reduce summer hours, she said.
After vaccinations against COVID-19 became widely available last year, hundreds of people gathered at Alki Beach in May — inspired in part by viral videos on TikTok and other social media apps promoting a massive party. Police closed the beach after making three arrests when a strong-arm robbery and “multiple fights and assaults” occurred.
Gatherings also turned violent in June, when a fight over fireworks broke out at Alki Beach, leaving one person dead and three injured. A drive-by shooting resulted after two groups got into a road-rage incident as another party, advertised through TikTok, was winding down at Golden Gardens.
Schulkin said last year’s incidents were the most recent in a string of unpermitted events that included amplified music and illegal drinking that sometimes mixed with violence. Police found over 20 rounds after a late-night shooting at Golden Gardens in 2017.
Neighbors in Alki Beach have complained about drag racing and those living near Golden Gardens have filed reports about excessive noise and unpermitted fires, she said.
Seattle Parks and the Seattle Police Department are working on an agreement in which the parks department pays for officers at the parks on weekend evenings, Schulkin said.
Already, a handful of people have submitted responses to Seattle Parks’ form soliciting feedback. Two respondents said they live nearby and support the early closure, while four said it will close the park during prime summer twilight hours without addressing the root causes of crime.
During the longest days of the year, sunset in Seattle falls around 9:10 p.m. with light lingering until nearly 10 p.m.
And while designated fire pits will be available beginning May 28, fires must be extinguished by 9:30 p.m. – which is less than an hour after sunsets in June and July.
Colin O’Keefe, who owns a town home in Crown Hill, said that when he was looking for a home in the neighborhood, there was no need to search for a place with a backyard with Golden Gardens just a few minutes away by bike.
In almost 10 years, the 35-year-old estimates he has visited Golden Gardens more than a hundred times.
Nothing beats watching the sun set late in summer, the colors changing and rays moving each minute behind the Olympic Mountains, he said.
O’Keefe, who is planning his wedding reception at Golden Gardens, said he is disappointed about the decision to limit park hours and thinks spending money for police enforcement is a waste.
“When you lose people like us, who love parks and are the biggest advocates in the world for open space, it kind of feels like you lost the plot,” he said.
Karen Denine, a 57-year-old ride-hail driver, said police enforcement of the closure may only increase conflict, though she thinks a law enforcement presence in general is a good idea. She views the early closures as an overreaction to isolated events that occurred as pandemic lockdown ended, and that the general public should not be punished for the actions of a few.
“These beaches are a Seattle institution,” she said. “It’s a part of summer.”
Denine said she also thinks closing the parks early will negatively affect Alki Beach’s bars, restaurants and the drivers like her who rely on the popularity of the park for business.
Schulkin said the department agrees parks are for everyone, but the violence that has occurred at the two sites is worrisome.
“I hope that people can see that it is our duty to try and do something to make a safer experience for everybody,” she said.
She said parks commissioners will review feedback along with data to help them decide if the earlier closing times were effective.
After Sept. 5, Golden Gardens and Alki Beach will return to normal hours and close at 11:30 p.m. while a permanent change is under consideration.