By Mark Fischenich
The Free Press
A hot sun was shining down on the shimmering water, sandy beach, sweating patrons and brand-new “Park Rules” sign prominently displayed at Hiniker Pond Sunday — the first summer-like day since the no-alcohol, no-smoking rules went into effect.
“We hate ’em. We hate ’em,” said Dennis Nesje of the new restrictions. “We used to like to come out here and have a couple of beers and watch the kids swim. Now we just have to watch the kids swim, and that’s boring.”
Despite Nesje’s strong words, he didn’t seem too militant about the changes — appearing utterly relaxed even with the beer still locked in the truck.
“I’m not easily flustered,” he explained.
Others seemed genuinely perturbed.
“This is absurd,” said one man, who wouldn’t give his name, as he sat in a vehicle in the parking lot so his friends could legally smoke cigarettes.
Hiniker without beer, he said, is a lesser experience.
Treks from the sand to the parking lot were common, mimicking the actions of nicotine fans stepping out of bars and restaurants ever since the smoking ban was enacted in 2007. As with the changes in 2007, Krysti Sheldon predicted that complaints and vows of boycotts would weaken over time.
“It’ll be just like the bars when they had no-smoking,” Sheldon said. “They’ll still come.”
The survey of beach-goers wasn’t only nonscientific, it was almost inherently unrepresentative. The people most adamant about “beer” being inseparable from “beach” were probably at Bray.
Bray Park on Madison Lake was a frequently mentioned alcohol-allowed alternative among people at Hiniker with friends who couldn’t abide the new restrictions passed by the Mankato City Council.
For many of the people on hand Sunday — and it was a good-sized crowd as the temperatures reached the 90s and the humidity level seemed to be close to that number — the attitude toward the new rules ranged from a mixed feelings to strong support.
“It’s kind of nice coming down and having a little more of a family setting,” said Brad Hoban, who brought his son Jack for a swim starting at 10:30 a.m. and still hadn’t convinced the 9-year-old to leave at 3 p.m.
Hoban didn’t have any run-ins with drinkers during his many previous visits to Hiniker, saying the rowdier Hiniker patrons generally kept themselves separate from the families. The biggest problem wasn’t that they were drunks, it was that they could sometimes be pigs.
“That was the worse part, they left a mess — beer cans floating everywhere,” he said.
And the beach was blanketed with cigarette butts, including butts that weren’t always extinguished — a problem when people are bare-foot, said Bob Anderson, who enjoys Hiniker enough to visit from Winthrop.
“Who wants to step on a hot cigarette?” Anderson said. “I did that once.”
Jeff Sparks of Mankato also applauds the changes, saying they will not only make for a cleaner park but one that provides a setting where young kids won’t be learning the lesson that going to the beach — for young adults — means smoking, drinking, even doing drugs.
“Kids are little sponges,” Sparks said. “They absorb what they see.”
Mankato police made regular patrols through the park Sunday, including an officer on foot, but the strategy was to avoid citations unless a park-goer refused to listen.
“Our plan is to begin with warnings,” said Matt Westermayer, deputy director of public safety.
And beer wasn’t going to be confiscated, at least for people who were being reasonable and hadn’t been previously warned, Westermayer said. Instead, they would be allowed to take the brew to their vehicles and lock it in their trunks.