Garbage strewn everywhere, clogged roads, graffiti and even dirty diapers become a problem in Wilton as soon as temperatures go up and people from all over the state and region start showing up at Garwin Falls.
“It’s a zoo up there,” said Matt Fish, select board chair.
After more than a year trying to get the situation at the trailhead on Isaac Frye Highway under control, the board voted this week to shut down access to the waterfall until Labor Day.
The falls are on property owned by a family who no longer live in Wilton, but access to the trail to get to the falls goes through town-owned property on Isaac Frye Highway in a rural and quiet area. Selectman Kermit Williams said Wilton families have been enjoying the falls as a recreation spot for more than 150 years. The problems started in the past several years with the rise of social media.
As the spot became popular online with hikers, Garwin Falls even started getting featured in magazines, bringing in more visitors, Williams said. The town has tried to keep the spot for residents.
“We’ve even removed Garwin Falls as a tourist attraction from our main website,” said Town Administrator Paul Bascombe.
Bascombe calls the situation at the falls a nightmare. The town-owned property on Isaac Frye Highway that leads to the falls has a parking spot for about five or six cars. When that’s full, out-of-state and out-of-town visitors will park on both sides of the road near the trailhead. With upwards of 50 cars on hot days, residents report traffic problems and there are worries that emergency vehicles could not get through, Bascombe said.
The town passed a parking ordinance that bans parking on the road, and tried fining people $100 for violating the ban. When that did not deter visitors, the town decided to tow the cars. Williams said in the past few weeks dozens of cars have been towed and police have written more than 100 tickets.
“And we’re still seeing crowds on hot days and weekends,” Williams said.
Fish wants to pause the visitors and the problems by simply shutting down permission to be on the town-owned property that leads to the falls. He said the out-of-town visitors are not respectful of the neighborhood, and the falls as an attraction far outweigh the benefits.
“It’s the nuclear option to close this,” Fish said.
Williams thinks the town would be better served working on a way to encourage respectful visits, and perhaps add a safe parking area on town land. Visitors could be a boon to the downtown businesses.
“I think we want the town to be an open, welcoming place,” Williams said. “In general, we should welcome people to town.”
Wilton had problems with people visiting the town’s Vale End Cemetery a few years ago during the online ghost hunting boom.
People were causing damage at the historic cemetery in hopes of seeing the apparition known as the Blue Lady. In that case that town closed night time public access to the cemetery.