MERIDEN — Frustrated by the number of Castle Craig visitors who fail to leave prior to closing, city officials are considering changing the castle’s access policy with a goal of devoting fewer parks department and police resources to those who don’t comply with closing hours.
The Parks Department pays an employee to patrol the Castle Craig area of East Peak each night and remind visitors to leave prior to closing. Some visitors don’t comply either out of defiance or because they’re off hiking and aren’t reminded they have to leave by the employee, Parks and Recreation Director Chris Bourdon said.
On an average night, two to five vehicles fail to leave the castle area before the city closes the gate restricting vehicle access to the road leading up to the castle, according to Bourdon. A police officer must respond to unlock the gate.
“Closing the castle is a strain, not only on the (parks) department but on the Police Department,” Bourdon told the City Council’s Parks and Recreation Committee this week.
The city allows access to Castle Craig, perhaps its most famed attraction, seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. from May 1 to Oct. 31. During the months of June, July and August, the hours are extended on Saturdays and Sundays to 7 p.m. The city also holds a monthly full moon viewing, extending hours to 9:30 p.m.
Visitors who choose to hike and not drive up to the castle are permitted to be in Hubbard Park until 30 minutes after sunset.
Many of the visitors who refuse to leave the park, Bourdon said, are up at the castle doing “activities that are not necessarily associated with a family-friendly park,” like drinking alcohol.
Bourdon believes the city has been “extremely generous” in allowing free access to the castle.
“It’s like, ‘Do we have to be this accommodating when, at times, we’re not getting that respect from the users in return?’” Bourdon said. “...A lot of other parks in the country would charge $3 to $10 to take a car and go up there and get that view.”Options
Bourdon said he wants to study the issue over the summer, including collecting data on noncompliance and come back to the council in the fall to discuss possible solutions.
“It’s just something I could see, if left unchecked, could get worse as the years go on,” he said.
City Manager Tim Coon said some of the solutions that have been discussed include charging admission, which Bourdon doesn’t think would ever gain support, and having an automated gate that police could lift remotely when people get stuck.
Coon noted that an automated gate can cost “tens of thousands of dollars,” while Bourdon’s concern is whether an automated gate may encourage visitors not to comply. An officer has the option of ticketing a violator when they open the gate. An automated gate may lead violators to think they will not be ticketed, Bourdon said.
Keeping the park open around the clock or not at all are not good options, Coon said. The city doesn’t want to prohibit public access to one of its prized landmarks, and keeping it open 24/7 would require the city to pay someone to patrol the remote area.
Bourdon wouldn’t be surprised if, after studying the issue, the city decides to continue with the current system.
“This may turn out to be a case where we’re just frustrated, and we’re going to look at if we can do anything different and there's nothing we can do,” Bourdon said. He hopes getting the word out about the city’s frustration will improve compliance.
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