The parking lot at the Quarry Dock Road entrance to Oswegatchie Hills Nature Preserve will be closed indefinitely because of issues with people trespassing on private property in the area.
East Lyme First Selectman Mark Nickerson said the decision to close the town-owned lot was an agreement between the town, Friends of the Oswegatchie Hills Nature Preserve and property owners in the area. Nickerson said that there were issues at the lot and with people trespassing onto private property nearby.
The Quarry Dock entrance is one of six trailheads where visitors can access the park, and one of two with its own parking lot. Visitors are encouraged to use the main entrance off Pennsylvania Avenue, which has the preserve’s main kiosk and access to the most trails.
Nickerson said the closure could be reconsidered in the future if people have changed habits or if any of the surrounding land becomes part of the preserve. Nickerson also asked the police commission to make Quarry Dock Road a no parking zone to prevent further issues.
Along with issues of people trespassing onto private property to access the Niantic River, there was also damage to the trails near the Quarry Dock Road Trailhead, said Friends of the Oswegatchie Hills Nature Preserve President Kris Lambert.
Interest in the preserve has surged as social distancing orders leave the public with fewer options for recreation. The group has printed out over 1,000 maps for visitors over the past few months, Lambert said, far more than usual.
“This is why it exists, so that people can enjoy a space for recreation, and it’s an outdoor learning laboratory, but you want it to be there for future generations,” Lambert said. “Wear and tear from extra traffic has an impact on the environment, so we ask people to tread lightly. Nature first, you’re in a nature preserve.”
The decision to close the Quarry Dock Road parking lot comes about two weeks after the Old Lyme Land Trust decided to close Watch Rock Preserve on weekends, citing litter and vandalism at the site. Nature preserves and land trusts across the state are seeing more visitors than usual, Lambert said.
“It’s the times right now, everybody has the extra anxiety from COVID-19 and people are anxious to get outdoors,” Lambert said.