Conway officials hope signs can curb river overcrowding

  • From left, Police Chief Ken Ouimette; resident Bob Van Gelder; and Conway Selectboard members Chris Waldo, Erica Goleman and Phil Kantor. Van Gelder spoke to the board and Ouimette on Monday about non-resident use of the South River on Reeds Bridge Road. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer
Published: 8/16/2022 2:39:57 PM

CONWAY — As Franklin County’s riverside towns continue to find ways to deal with overcrowding, Conway is taking a hands-off approach to dealing with South River usage concerns.

Several residents along Reeds Bridge Road, which runs along the South River, have raised concerns about non-Conway residents using land owned by the Sevoian Land Trust, which has allowed the neighborhood to use the property in the past. Resident Bob Van Gelder, along with Janna Aldrich, who owns the land trust, spoke with the Selectboard on Monday about the issue while looking to work through possible solutions.

“The dynamic has changed,” Van Gelder said about how many out-of-towners use the area. “We’ve seen this happen in other areas of the county. … We’ve had property damage, we’ve had emergency calls.”

The two main concerns raised by Van Gelder were people, usually young men, building dams that impede the flow of the South River and parking on the river’s side of the street, which he claims has sunk several inches over the years and is a safety concern. Highway Superintendent Ron Sweet, however, said he has not seen any issues with the road sinking.

“I’m not sitting here pounding the table asking this to happen,” Van Gelder said. “The genie’s out of the bottle, this is a destination. … Maybe if we can just take a few minor steps, but I think it has to be something that everyone wants.”

Selectboard Chair Philip Kantor said river issues are tough to tackle because restricting one area will just cause people to move to another spot on the river.

“These are actually more complicated issues than people appreciate,” Kantor said. “River access is like a balloon and when you squeeze it in one place, people migrate up or down the river.”

Parking restrictions were suggested by the residents, but the Selectboard and Police Chief Ken Ouimette said the best place to start would be to post signs along the entire property, which would indicate to people that they are on private land. Aldrich said there are several “no trespassing” signs already, but she can add more for next season.

“If the concern is overabundance of people using the property, I would encourage the landowner to put up more signage — how you word it is up to you,” Ouimette said. “Then we can actually do something, but it has to be legally posted.”

Kantor said this would be “an intermediate step before posting ‘no parking’ signs.”

“It’s a bit of an imposition to put all ‘no trespassing’ signs, but it’s still more aesthetically pleasing than having ‘no parking’ signs,” Kantor commented. “It does allow our police to enforce criminal trespassing law.”

River access has long been an issue in Franklin County as crowds of people flock to different rivers to take a dip during hot summer months. Most recently, towns on the Deerfield River are looking for ways to deal with overcrowding, which will include a Franklin Regional Council of Governments (FRCOG) study.

Fellow Selectboard members Chris Waldo and Erica Goleman said a similar solution worked at Sunburn Beach on the border of Charlemont and Shelburne, which experienced overcrowding before the landowner posted “no trespassing” signs.

“We haven’t been there in years — it worked,” Goleman joked.

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.


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