THE dog walkers of Ballina want to reclaim their park from men using it as a meeting place for casual sexual encounters.
Bicentennial Gardens, a rest stop on the Pacific Highway on the northern approach to Ballina, has become an area known for homosexual meetings between men.
But the section of park they use to meet - during the day as well as at night - is a designated dog exercise area and was once well-used by families for picnics and outings.
One dog owner, who does not wish to be identified, said the parklands where she liked to walk her dog were not an appropriate meeting place for these activities.
The woman said she had inadvertently witnessed one couple engaging in sexual activity in broad daylight earlier this year when she was looking for her dog.
“It's not threatening, but it's uncomfortable,” she said.
“If you had young children and wanted to have a picnic, you couldn't.”
As the number of men frequenting the park had increased, the number of families and dog owners at the park had dwindled to almost nothing, she said.
“They're not going to bash you up, but it's a bit intimidating. I'd prefer they used the toilets,” she said.
The woman said most of the men she saw in the park were between 45 and 65 years old and looked like 'family men'.
When The Northern Star visited the gardens this week, the picnic tables in the dog exercise area were covered in graffiti including lewd images portraying naked men, and a series of times and dates - possibly indicating when men could expect to meet other men there.
The woman said she would like the activities moved.
“I felt like getting a sign saying: 'Reclaim the dog exercise area,'” she said.
Ballina police said they were aware the spot had become known as a meeting place for men and police conducted occasional patrols to discourage the practice.
But little could be done unless the men were caught in the act, Senior Constable Kevin Patston said.
“We're aware of it,” he said. “If we get enough complaints we'll make regular patrols.”
If any of the men are caught in the act, it is a criminal offence.
“It's wilful and obscene exposure,” Senior Constable Patston said.
Ballina Shire Council said the issue was a police matter, but it was doing what it could.
“From time to time we've received complaints of that nature, but essentially it's a police matter and we refer them on to police,” council group manager of regulatory services Rod Willis said.
“We've been looking at a few options to assist the situation.”