For the first time in five years of Artpark summer concerts, mounted auxiliary officers will patrol Lewiston village streets tonight for the opening of the Tuesdays in the Park series.
The unprecedented move is an attempt to prevent public drunkenness and lewdness by some concert-goers that shocked the residents of the village last year.
"It was like a mini-Woodstock," said village resident Claudia Marasco.
The half-dozen mounted officers, plus more than a dozen Lewiston police officers and Niagara County sheriff's deputies, will keep a sharp lookout for people drinking alcohol in the streets.
"The open-container law will be strictly enforced," Sgt. Frank J. Previte of the Lewiston Police Department said Monday. "We will have a zero tolerance policy this year."
The Lewiston police, mounted officers and deputies also will be looking for concert-goers who park where they shouldn't, clogging local streets and blocking private driveways.
Parking will be restricted on Fourth Street, closest to the park, and on four streets that run off Fourth Street: Tuscarora, Seneca, Plain and Cayuga.
The mounted officers -- volunteer members of the Niagara County Sheriff's Mounted Division -- don't carry weapons and have no authority to make arrests. If they come across a miscreant, they will use their two-way radios to inform active-duty officers. The officers on horses help the police at no cost to the taxpayers. They own and feed the horses they ride.
Law enforcement officials will see how the mounted patrols work tonight before they decide whether to make them a permanent part of policing for the summer concert series.
Beer and wine are sold inside Artpark, which is owned by the state and considered a picnic area. Drinking alcohol is prohibited in the parking lot. State Parks police officers patrol inside the park. There will be no mounted officers inside the park.
"These are family events," said George Osborne, president of Artpark. "People don't get rip-roaring drunk."
That may be the case inside the park, but on the normally quiet village streets outside, it's a different story, some residents said.
Many have unpleasant memories of last summer's concert series, particularly a June concert starring the Canadian rock band Tragically Hip and a July performance by British rocker Peter Frampton.
"Last year, there was quite a lot of intoxication and displays of public lewdness," said Marasco, whose house is surrounded on three sides by the 193-acre Artpark.
"People would park in the streets and walk through backyards to get into the park," she said. "Some of our elder residents became quite frightened."
The mounted officers were called in after many residents took their complaints to Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte, D-Lewiston, who then met with local law enforcement officers and elected officials to come up with a solution.
"When we get this many people in town, we prepare for the unexpected," Previte said.
The concerts attract up to 20,000 people with big names like Frampton.
Tonight's performance, beginning at 6:30, will feature country rockers Molly Hatchet and Blackfoot. Tragically Hip is not part of the 13-week concert series but again will appear at Artpark this summer. Free Tuesday concerts will include Hootie and the Blowfish, Kenny Loggins, Pat Benatar, America, and Eric Burden and the Animals.
"We have no intention of trying to stop the concerts," said Marasco, speaking for herself and other residents, "but we are gearing up for Tuesday nights."