Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2007

Upcounty to have area’s first smoke-free recreational park

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Officials have been given the go ahead to make the 736-acre South Germantown Recreational Park, home of the Maryland SoccerPlex, the county’s first completely smoke-free park.

The county Planning Board reviewed the plan, which will take effect next month, during its meeting Thursday.

Board members did not vote on the matter, but concurred with the proposal presented by park staff and the Maryland Soccer Foundation, which operates the SoccerPlex.

The county Parks Department will now ‘‘develop a policy with general counsel” to enforce the new smoke-free rule, Director Mary Bradford said after the meeting.

‘‘I’m really excited about it because I think it’s the right thing to do,” said Trish Heffelfinger, executive director of the soccer foundation. ‘‘It sends the right message. ... I like the fact that we’re kind of leading the charge on this.”

A sign announcing the entire venue as smoke-free will be erected at the park’s entrance, and other signs will be posted around the park.

The park hosts more than one million visitors a year at its various attractions, including the SoccerPlex, the splash park, the miniature golf course, the King Barn Dairy Mooseum and Adventure Playground.

Rick Heilman, president of the soccer club Seneca Soccer, said the smoke-free policy was a step in the right direction.

‘‘I think it would be a good idea,” he said last week. ‘‘I would have no problem with it because of the nature of the way the facility is being used with all the kids and the second-hand smoke.”

Smoking is currently prohibited in the seating area of the SoccerPlex stadium, but spectators can smoke along the plaza. And there are several designated containers to dispose of smoking materials in the park.

The county Parks Department instituted a voluntary tobacco-free policy for visitors to its facilities in 1997.

Carroll County public parks became smoke-free in 2005. And that same year, San Francisco became the first U.S. city to prohibit smoking in its public parks, according to the California Department of Health Services Web site.

According to the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation, there are 517 municipalities nationwide that restrict smoking in public outdoor spaces such as parks and beaches and 265 municipalities that restrict smoking in outdoor stadiums and sports and entertainment venues.