The Chester Board of Selectmen, and various town committees, are being forced to address conditions at the Wason Pond conservation and recreation area, the result of people using the land and pond and leaving behind trash, ignoring the rules, and vandalizing the community-built bridge.
But it’s not a situation unique to Chester. Conservation and recreation areas in Derry and Londonderry have faced situations of trash carelessly left behind, vandalism of signs, uncared for campfires, and random target shooting. While police in all towns are aware of the problems and can occasionally patrol those areas, the nature of recreation and conservation areas – their relative isolation and access only by foot trails – makes it difficult for police surveillance.
And while signs alert visitors to closed hours during the night, there’s not much to keep someone out who chooses to ignore the sign.
So what is there to do, when it’s human nature and selfishness and a scoff-law mentality that result in the broken signs, damaged bridge, and piles of trash. Rules are only enforceable if towns have the personnel to make them stick, and taxpayers are already burdened heavily enough without having to pay for more police to keep recreation areas clean and safe for the majority of users who obey the law.
A little personal responsibility can help. Visitors who see others leaving their trash or damaging property can report them. There’s no need for vigilantes, but reminding someone politely that the park has a carry in-carry out trash policy can sometimes help. And packing out the leftover trash yourself is an option as well.
Just a few people can easily ruin use of recreation land for all of us. And until we can persuade the perpetrators to change their ways, or police can catch them in the act, the cost of maintaining conservation land and recreation fields should include clean-up and repairs. If that means town employees are expected to have the added duties in their job descriptions of clean-up and maintenance, that’s the cost for all of us to have the opportunity to use the land.
Conservation and recreation areas make life in our towns better. They give residents easy access to trails, ponds, wildlife, scenic vistas, and recreation areas. They give us the chance to enjoy the outdoors in all seasons.
They are neither town dump nor a place to do anything and everything we want. But without a way to enforce the rules, they remain subject to the whims of those who fail to respect others’ property, and we all have to pay the price.