Resident Discusses ConcernsAbout Nonnewaug Falls
By: Mike Russo
Woodbury resident Linda Caspar is making efforts to stop all-terrain vehicles and motorbikes from entering the walking trails at various locations at Nonnewaug Falls. Ms. Caspar said the riding tracks (right), created by the bikers, are creating erosion on the property. A portion of the Nonnewaug Falls area was donated to the town of Woodbury in 2002 and is designated as open space for passive recreation. (Russo photo)
WOODBURY - A local woman has talked to town officials about protecting Nonnewaug Falls, an historical landmark owned by the town.
Lifelong resident Linda Caspar, who lives near the falls on Nonnewaug Road, said she regularly walks the more than 150 trails on the property as part of her daily exercise routine and is upset by what she sees on the property.
The falls, she said, has sustained erosion and land damage because of the use of motorized bikes and parties conducted on the property.
Ms. Caspar told Voices she has noticed in recent years an increase of all-terrain vehicles and dirt bikes on the trails located on the steep mountainous property surrounding the falls.
She said the ATVs and other motorized bikes drive recklessly through the trails, leaving tracks that eventually erode the land.
"There could be as many as 50 ATVs here on any given weekend," she said. "They are destroying the property."
The falls, which is located in Woodbury near the Bethlehem and Watertown town lines, was owned by the Leever family for many years.
In his will, the late Dr. Harold Leever donated 50 acres of land at the falls to Woodbury and 12 acres near the falls to the Bethlehem Land Trust.
The land donated in both towns is designated as open space for passive recreation.
Another portion of the property surrounding the falls belongs to the Watertown Fire District, which leases the land to farmers for agricultural purposes.
Additional acreage comprises a right of way owned by Connecticut Light and Power for utility lines.
One of the five entrances to the falls is located on Falls Road in Bethlehem, just across the Woodbury town line.
Along the roadway leading to the entrance, no trespassing signs and fences have been installed along the fields owned by the Watertown Fire District to deter visitors and vandals from disrupting the property.
The entrance on Falls Road is intended to be used by farmers to access their fields and is equipped with a red iron gate owned by the town of Bethlehem.
Ms. Caspar, noting the gate is "rarely locked," said the lock has been damaged by vandals and not replaced.
The town of Woodbury placed signs on the property at the falls that read, "This is open space, no motorized vehicles," but the signs were damaged by vandals and never replaced.
Ms. Caspar said the ATVs and dirt bikes gain access to the falls through the unlocked gate or the CL&P right of way.
Bethlehem First Selectman Leo Bulvanoski said he has discussed the problem with police and was told the area is difficult to monitor.
"You can chase them [ATV riders] to a certain extent," he said, "but that is all you can really do."
Mr. Bulvanoski said he told Director of Public Works Jim Kacerguis to place a chain on the fence to keep it locked.
Ms. Caspar said there are late night parties on the property with camp sites and bonfires and party-goers leave behind large amounts of garbage.
"They are cutting down trees to make fires and campgrounds and leave beer bottles and garbage behind," she said, "and no one is cleaning anything up."
She said she regularly picks up garbage left behind and stops the bikers to tell them to leave the area.
"I think that might be a little dangerous," she said, "but I have nowhere to turn."
Ms. Caspar said she is concerned about the "lack" of enforcement at the falls.
"The police do not have a vehicle that can reach the area where this is happening," she said. "We need someone with some authority to keep these people out of here."
Ms. Caspar said she is trying to initiate a grassroots committee to police the area.
Ms. Caspar also contacted Dr. Nick Bellantoni, an archeologist with the State Museum of Natural History at the University of Connecticut, to assess the property.
"There are a lot of trees down," Dr. Bellantoni told Voices. "Considering the historical significance, there needs to be a management plan of cultural and natural resources."
Ms. Caspar said she spoke about her concerns to Woodbury Conservation Commission Chairman Dick Leavenworth, Land Use Director Judi Lynch and the Woodbury and Bethlehem first selectmen in an effort to find a resolution to the problems.
Mr. Leavenworth told Voices he participated in a site walk of the property with First Selectman Dick Crane and Woodbury's resident state trooper three years ago and said there is noticeable erosion taking place.
"When it rains, the water flows run through the tracks created by the motorbikes," he said. "This is causing the erosion."
Mr. Leavenworth said the Conservation Commission performs a clean-up operation at the falls twice a year as part of the Adopt-a Road program.
"The Conservation Commission will make efforts to focus on what is happening in the area," he said, "but what is complicating the issue is that motorbikes have several avenues to enter the falls, which is working against us."
He said the Conservation Commission will conduct a public site walk of the falls to assess the area in September.
"That way we can see the site and look at its potential and the problems we have assuring its proper use," he said.
Woodbury Resident Trooper Sgt. Clayton Brown said that Ms. Caspar's concerns about "lack" of enforcement in the area are unfounded.
He said the police department recently made 16 arrests for simple trespass during a party on the premises and two arrests for ATV violations in recent months.
"We are committed to public safety and every call gets investigated," he said.
Sgt. Brown said the department follows State Police pursuit policies and would not pursue an ATV or a dirt bike onto the property unless a serious crime has been committed.
"It would be very difficult for a police officer to pursue an ATV on foot," he said.
Sgt. Brown said he would work with Bethlehem law enforcement officials to limit access beyond the gate on Falls Road.
He said discussions with Woodbury town officials to present solutions are in the works.
"We need to get on the same side and select what enforcement possibilities there are," he said. "Limited vehicle usage would cut down on vandalism and damage going on up there."
Sgt. Brown said the difficulties with policing the area are the accessibility to the property and the personnel resources of the department.
Sgt. Brown said since the summer season is coming to a close, it is a good time to get a start on developing an enforcement plan for next spring.
"Now a lot of the kids are going back to school; it is a good time to get a game plan together for next year," he said.
Sgt. Brown said people who are caught trespassing would be charged with third degree criminal trespass and people who are drinking alcohol would be charged with liquor law violations, which include a fine of $136.
People starting fires would be charged with reckless burning, which is a class D felony.
Ms. Caspar suggested designating the land as a state park, saying that would stop the problems with ATVs, dirt bikes and late-night parties.
Mr. Crane noted Nonnewaug Falls is designated as open space and, according to Dr. Leever's will, the falls must remain open space.
"Since it is open space, it can be used as passive recreation and a town meeting cannot change that," he said.
Mr. Crane said that police patrol the area frequently.
"If there is illegal activity going on there, that would be taken care of," he said.
Mr. Crane said the fire pits used at the camp sites have been inspected by Fire Marshal Janet Morgan and meet land regulations. He said the fire department plans on using the land for training drills in the future.
Mr. Crane said he appreciates Ms. Caspar's concerns, but there needs to be cooperation from the residents in the area to police the area.
"Cooperation of the residents would be appreciated instead of spending taxpayers' money for a job that should be done by parents," he said, "and if they are adults, they should know better and take responsibility for their own actions."
The Conservation Commission's public site walk is scheduled for Saturday, September 29.
Anyone who observes any suspicious activity at Nonnewaug Falls is asked to call the Woodbury Resident Trooper's office, 203-263-3400.