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Officials pleased with Wadsworth Falls action

About a dozen residents were at a Sept. 11 meeting to hear an update from officials about the rule changes implemented over the summer at Wadsworth Falls State Park.

In response to crowds, littering, and illegal parking along Cherry Hill Road, the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection removed picnic tables and grills and enforced a ban on swimming and picnicking at the “Big Falls” area of the park starting in August. Picnicking and swimming are still allowed at the main entrance and pond area of the park.

State Sen. Dante Bartolomeo served as a moderator for the meeting, which was also attended by Middlefield First Selectman Jon Brayshaw, Selectman Ed Bailey, State Representative Buddy Altobello, Director of the State Parks Division Tom Tyler, and Connecticut Environmental Conservation Police Col. Kyle Overturf.

All of the officials said they thought the changes had worked for the better. In a press release, Bartolomeo said, “Residents‘ concerns to have the park returned to its natural state have been heard.”

Overturf said that after the signs were posted and the tables and grills hauled away, the police had a presence at the park. “Our focus was outreach and education,” Overturf said. “People caught on very quickly.”

Police officers had eight hour shifts on Saturdays and Sundays for the rest of the summer, explaining the new rules to cars full of people.

On the weekend of Aug. 3 through 4, multiple police officers turned away lines of cars at the Big Falls lot, sending them to Hammonasset Beach State Park.

The new rules at Big Falls are “pretty unusual” for a state park, according to Tyler, who added that the ‘No Picnicking’ signs had to be made because the DEEP did not have any.

Tyler said that the heat had drawn more crowds to state parks than ever before. “Our attendance figures just went through the roof,” Tyler said.

The July Fourth weekend filled Hammonasset to capacity, according to Overturf.

The stress of the crowds was too much for the Big Falls portion of Wadsworth Falls, according to the officials. “We recognized a pretty significant, quick change” in the use of the park and the length of visits, said Tyler.

Atlobello and Brayshaw recounted the conditions of the park before the rule changes. Both had visited the park to document the stress placed on it by crowds and litter. “The situation there was not incidental. It was a significant situation,” Brayshaw said.

The number of officials reflected the overlap of jurisdictions. For example, illegal parking within the Big Falls parking lot is the responsibility of DEEP, while illegal parking on the street is a town and police concern, but illegally charging to park on private property in Middlefield is a zoning issue.

The audience feedback was largely positive. “What you’ve done has really made a significant difference there,” Middlefield resident and First Selectman candidate Lucy Petrella said.

One question from the audience concerned horses. Horses are allowed in state parks, according to Tyler, except where marked. Tyler said that proper trail etiquette takes care of most interactions between hiker, dog-walkers, and equestrians on the trails.

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