NEW FAIRFIELD, Conn. -- The state may add regulations next summer to limit walk-in visitors at state parks, but until then it's up to New Fairfield to regulate parking at Squantz Pond, a state spokesman said in response to criticism from town politicians.
Dennis Schain, a spokesman for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said the state cannot prevent people from walking into the popular lakefront park. He called on the town of New Fairfield to boost its efforts to control parking, as parkgoers leave their cars on streets and at nearby businesses, then walk into the park.
"We’re hoping the town will take effective steps to eliminate parking as much as possible in lots and on streets near the park," Schain said. One of those steps would be to impose zoning controls,he said.
DEEP, which oversees 23 beaches at state parks, cut parking spaces down to 200 from 250 at Squantz Pond after learning that a nearby business was selling parking spaces, Schain said. The goal was to control the size of the crowd at the park with many people walking in.
But the top two officials in New Fairfield are blasting the state policy that allows visitors to walk-in at Squantz Pond State Park even after the parking lot is filled.
In a Facebook post , First Selectman Susan Chapman and Selectman Kim Hanson want the state to ban the walk-ins.
"By allowing unlimited walk-ins, the state is creating a public safety issue for both the people visiting the park and the residents of New Fairfield," the Facebook post said. "The state needs to immediately declare a moratorium on walk-ins at Squantz Pond State Park once the park is closed due to reaching maximum capacity for cars. The State Police cannot stop people from walking into the park until the state (DEEP) prohibits walk-ins. #NewFairfield."
On Sunday, the parking lot at the lakefront state park was filled up by 9 a.m. On Monday, July 4, the park hit the reduced number of 200 cars by 8:15 a.m.
Schain said DEEP cannot stop people from walking in to the park, but officials are working on regulations that could give DEEP that power. He said it is a lengthy process that needs approval from the state's Regulations Review Committee.
"Short of that, we don't have any authority and hope to by next summer," he said.
A number of comments on the Facebook post by the selectmen complained of pedestrians walking along and crossing Route 39 in an unsafe manner. Other comments said that beachgoers were parking along the road, at businesses, at the Town Beach, on private streets and even knocking on doors asking to park in driveways.
Squantz Park is a popular summer beach and frequently is forced to close on summer weekends when the parking lot fills up. Local residents complain that many of the visitors come from out-of-state and that parking along the narrow two-lane road is a safety hazard.