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Ask MRSC - Parks and Recreation

Below are selected “Ask MRSC” inquiries we have received from local governments throughout Washington State related to parks and recreation. Click on any question to see the answer.

These questions are for educational purposes only. All questions and answers have been edited and adapted for posting to the MRSC website, and all identifying information, including the inquirer’s name and agency name, has been removed.

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Reviewed: January 2024

Liability and risk management questions are beyond the scope of MRSC’s general legal guidance. However, we can provide the following general comments. First, your risk management insurer will likely have resources regarding how to manage risks and maintain these public trails in a way that is reasonably safe. We suggest contacting them right away.

It is important to have a maintenance plan where regular inspections are performed, and potential hazards are documented and repaired promptly. This could be similar to how the city manages its public streets and sidewalks. When notice of a hazard is received, either via inspections or reports by employees or members of the public, then temporary and permanent repairs should be made. Warning signs, cones, temporary paint, caution ribbon, etc. are options, as are closing portions of a trail if adequate warning signs are not enough to protect users from a particular safety hazard.

Regarding municipal liability for streets, sidewalks, and bridges, there are pattern civil jury instructions in WPI chapter 140, that set forth the law about these duties:

WPI 140.01 – Sidewalks, Streets, Bridges and Roads—Duty of Governmental Entity

The [county] [city] [town] [state] has a duty to exercise ordinary care in the [design] [construction] [maintenance] [repair] of its public [roads] [streets] [sidewalks] [bridges] to keep them in a reasonably safe condition for ordinary travel.

WPI 140.01.01 – Duty of Governmental Entity to Remove or Correct a Hazardous Roadway Condition

The [county's] [city's] [town's] [state's] duty includes a duty to take reasonable steps to remove or correct hazardous conditions that make a [road] [street] [sidewalk] [bridge] unsafe for ordinary travel [including hazardous conditions that may exist along the [road] [street] [sidewalk] [bridge]].

Similar jury instructions would likely apply for claims about incidents on public walking paths and trails.

We recommend you consult with your city attorney and your risk pool insurance representative(s). They are in the best position to help with risk prevention and management in relation to the city’s walking trails.

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Reviewed: July 2023

State law does not address the use of metal detectors in city parks. However, there are state statutes and regulations related to the use of metal detectors in state parks. For example, the State Parks and Recreation Commission must allow the use of recreational metal detectors within a certain minimum acreage of state parks. See, e.g., RCW 79A.05.190 and RCW 79A.05.195. And WAC 352-32-235 provides administrative rules regarding the use of metal detectors in state parks.

Whether and how metal detectors may be used in city parks/public property will be a matter of local policy. The city is not required to allow use of metal detectors on city property. Conversely, if the city wanted to allow use of metal detectors in such areas, the city could do so but should establish clear guidelines regarding their use.

Below are some examples of local regulations related to use of metal detectors on city property:

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Reviewed: January 2022

We have several examples of art policies on our Arts Commissions and Programs page. Those programs talk about the process of selecting art both as part of an agency construction project and as stand-alone acquisitions.

For the contracting piece, MRSC has historically said that the acquisition of public art, including its design, are not “public works.” In response to a previous inquiry, we said:

  • Where artwork is fabricated and installed, if the artwork is not an integral, functional part of a building or structure it would not be subject to public works bidding requirements or prevailing wages if completed by the artist. Along those same lines, if there is a part of the installation that is clearly not art (such as installation of a foundation or construction related work to prepare for some artwork), that arguably should be treated as a public work and bid out.

Likewise, if the installation is a part of the building or structure the installation is probably subject to prevailing wage requirements, while a stand-alone installation may not be. But as always, we recommend checking with the Department of Labor & Industries on prevailing wage questions.

Finally, here is a sample contract: Temporary Loan of Sculpture Contract – Olympia (2014).

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