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Pelham town beach incident raises questions on parks policy

PELHAM — Selectmen had already been discussing Pelham’s policy on allowing out-of-towners to use its public parks, but an incident last weekend has brought the issue to the forefront.

Tuesday night’s board meeting discussion centered on making permanent changes to the town ordinance and how those changes could be enforced.

A public hearing will take place later this month.

Last Friday evening, April 25, Pelham police and fire officials were summoned to Veterans Memorial Park, located off Mammoth Road, when callers reported a number of teens hanging around the Long Pond beach.

While police later determined most of the teens were using the beach appropriately, they discovered three young men had set themselves afloat about 70 feet from the shore, having allegedly released a section of the town dock to fish when the wind carried them away.

Police arrested Mario Aybar, 17 of Lowell, Mass.; Nicholas Bridge, 18, of Dracut, Mass.; and Dakota Redding, 18, also of Dracut, after a resident rescued them by boat. The three young men face criminal mischief charges.

This week, Selectmen Chairman Edmund Gleason said the issue of non-residents using, and abusing, the park is an ongoing issue.

The board was scheduled to debate the topic prior to last Friday’s arrests, Vice Chairman William McDevitt said.

“For a number of reasons, there had already been questions about residency requirements for the use of that particular park,” McDevitt said. “And yet, it’s posted for residents only.”

“If we decide to continue on with a residents-only policy, let’s either make it official or take the sign down,” McDevitt said.

McDevitt said the Long Pond property has been posted “residents only” since it was acquired by the Lowell, Mass., YMCA some years ago, though enforcement of the posting has been inconsistent.

“How do we go about enforcing this?” Gleason asked. “We certainly didn’t enforce it last weekend.”

According to the park rules and regulations posted on the Pelham Parks website, all residents must have a laminated beach sticker on their person while attending the beach with their family group, though residents are permitted to bring up to three guests to the beach.

Permitted beach hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. from June through Labor Day weekend.

Police Chief Joseph Roark, who is serving as acting town administrator, said an update for the town’s existing ordinance may be in order.

“That way, a violation of an ordinance could be cited in court and a judge would determine the fine,” Roark said. “To truly have any teeth behind his, there needs to be a clear ordinance behind it.”

Roark said that in that as it stands now, park trespassers only face charges if they are asked to leave by police and fail to do so.

The board agreed to discuss the matter further at its May 13 meeting, with officials consulting legal counsel in the meantime.

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