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DEEP issues new rules for Wadsworth Falls

After receiving numerous complaints about littering, vandalism, and over-crowding and Wadsworth Falls State Park in Middlefield, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection changed the rules for the park.

On July 31, the DEEP issued a statement announcing its new prohibitions. At Big Falls, the part of the park located off of Cherry Hill Road, picnicking, swimming, and grills are no longer allowed. Picnic tables and park grills were removed from the Big Falls by the DEEP before the August 3-4 weekend.

The DEEP also pledged in its statement to increase “patrols of the area by the agency’s Environmental Conservation (EnCon) Police —including enforcement of the park closing at sunset.”

New “No Swimming” and “No Picnicing” (sic) signs have been installed. Finally, the DEEP said it will work with local officials to increase parking enforcement and change the language on the Wadworth Falls’ portion of its website.

“The Big Falls area was designed to accommodate a small number of people at any one time and over the years it was a scenic spot where visitors stopped for short visits to view the water,” said DEEP Deputy Commissioner Susan Whalen in a statement. “It has now become a destination for large numbers of people who picnic and stay for many hours. The Big Falls is simply not intended for this purpose and the steps we are taking should help reduce the numbers of people who are illegally parking on streets nearby to visit The Big Falls and stay there for the day.”

Swimming and picnicking are still allowed at the main part of Wadsworth Falls, although that area was closed to swimming on the August 3-4 weekend due to high levels of bacteria. There is a fee for parking at the main entrance.

There have been numerous problems at the Big Falls this summer. The free parking in the Cherry Hill lot is limited and the area has suffered from overflowing and illegal parking. On the July 4 weekend, police issued 77 parking tickets in the area. There are also no trash facilities at the Big Falls area.

Carol Schilling of Middlefield complained to Middlefield First Selectman Jon Brayshaw, the DEEP, and state Sen. Bartolomeo. “My complaints were about the amount of people contained in a very small area and the garbage and filth that went along with overuse of such a small area,” Schilling said.

Schilling started a petition at the Track Side Deli calling for Big Falls to be closed until the DEEP could come up with a solution. “My petition was to close it because I was so frustrated,” said Schilling, who called the new DEEP rules “extremely appropriate.”

On Sunday, July 28, a bus with New York plates dropped off dozens of people for the day. The new Big Falls rules, which attempt to encourage short visits, seem designed to make long trips to the attraction less worthwhile.

EnCon police, under the authority of the DEEP, were a presence in the small parking lot the first weekend with the new rules. Three EnCon officers patrolled the Big Falls lot in the morning on Sunday, the hotter of the weekend days, and were briefly joined both by state police and Col. Kyle Overturf, director of the EnCon police and a Middlefield resident.

Overturf said there would be a “heavy presence right through Labor Day.”

Cars pulling in were stopped and EnCon police explained the new rules. In about an hour, over 20 vehicles were turned away. Would-be visitors were originally sent to Miller’s Pond State Park in Durham and later the instructions were to go to Hammonasset Beach State Park. According to DEEP, parking at Miller’s Pond filled up by Sunday afternoon.

One of the EnCon officers expressed mixed feelings about the new rules, which he referred to as “Take a picture and get out.”

“Who owns the park?” he asked. “You should see the look on the kids’ faces when they can’t get out of the car.”

On Sunday morning, everyone left after hearing the new rules. Hammonasset is the largest nearby state park. Smart phones and GPS devices identified Miller’s Pond and Chatfield Hollow as the closest.

Nearby residents watched the enforcement. “About time,” said a dog walker from Middlefield. Other residents exchanged high-fives.

“I appreciate DEEP’s responsiveness to me and other local officials on the issues facing this area of Wadsworth Falls,” said Brayshaw in a statement. “The steps DEEP is taking will go a long way toward addressing overcrowding and littering in this area, which will be appreciated by town residents and improve the park experience for visitors this summer.”

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