Crowded Squantz seeks parking solutions
NEW FAIRFIELD — More signs, a new traffic pattern and increased patrols may have been enough to keep crowds under control at Squantz Pond State Park during a busy Fourth of July this year, but new measures might prevent overcrowding altogether.
The park, which has long struggled with how best to control additional visitors once its 250-car parking lot fills up, had its first test of the summer the week of the holiday.
Some problems from past years, like long back-ups on Route 39, were moderated given new procedures in park grounds that sped up the line to get in, officials said. But other issues, like illegal parking on nearby side streets once the lot closed — though reduced by extra police as the week went on — continued to raise concerns.
“Typically the Fourth of July is one of the biggest days at Squantz Pond, and this year was no different,” First Selectman Pat Del Monaco said. “We’re all working together to try to support the park and make sure that everyone stays safe.”
Particularly on the Sunday before the Fourth of July, Del Monaco said, neighbors called to complain about cars parking on Shortwoods and Beaver Bog Road to walk to the park once the lot closed early that morning.
One Shortwoods Road resident said on Facebook he saw at least a dozen cars, most with out-of-state plates.
“The thing the town gets concerned about is emergency access,” Del Monaco said. “We get concerned if we cannot get our emergency equipment in.”
Increased help from state and local police seemed to help later in the week, Del Monaco said, though some visitors seemed to park as far north as Wanzer Hill Road instead. Added signs that the parking lot was closed, like one on exit 5 of I-84, also seemed to make a difference, she added.
But Del Monaco said a future solution might be to revisit an idea proposed by her predecessor, former First Selectman Susan Chapman. Chapman had lobbied the state for years to create a ban on walk-in visitors once the parking lot was full.
During her campaign last fall, Del Monaco had been hesitant to say a walk-in ban was the answer to Squantz’ overcrowding since an attempt to pass the ban through the state legislature had failed earlier that year.
Members of the legislative committee argued the ban — which would have applied to all state parks — would unfairly impact parks who rely on residents who walk from their nearby homes.
But Del Monaco now says will look into creating a ban that would apply only to Squantz, which had been discussed by Chapman and legislators as a compromise but never materialized.
“The issue before was that it would apply to all state parks, and there are state parks that rely on people being able to walk in,” Del Monaco said. “Squant z Pond is different. We don’t have the infrastructure here in town to support the walk-ins, our town roads are narrow and windy and when they’re walking along Route 39 there are no shoulders.”
The ban would again need to be proposed as a change to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s rules and be approved by the legislative review committee, DEEP spokesman Chris Collibee said. He added that DEEP officials have not yet discussed the Squantz-specific approach.
A potential solution that will likely come sooner than any walk-in regulation, though, could be an online pre-ticketing system the department is hoping to try out at Squantz Pond, Collibee said.
The system would require beachgoers to get a ticket for the parking lot before coming to the park and stop giving out tickets once 250 are given.
“We’re working through some tech issues...so there’s no ETA on that yet,” Collibee said. “(But) we think Squantz would be a perfect place to try it out and, if it works, we could roll it out at other parks.”