EDITORIAL: A tough situation at Meriden’s Castle Craig

EDITORIAL: A tough situation at Meriden’s Castle Craig

It’s a difficult situation up on Castle Craig. There would not be a problem if people simply followed the rules, but people are not following the rules. Anywhere between two and five vehicles each night stay at the area around the castle beyond the time they’re supposed to leave. Sometimes it’s because they lose track of time and stay beyond closing. Sometimes it’s because they’re being defiant.

Castle Craig is the city’s icon and best-known attraction. The views are breathtaking from its perch on East Peak. The city allows visitors to the castle seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. from May 1 to Oct. 31, with extended hours in the months of summer. Nobody would want to change that access, but how do you get people to obey the rules?

That difficult question was brought to the attention of the the City Council’s Parks and Recreation Committee recently by Chris Bourdon, the parks and recreation director. And even Bourdon says there may be no answer to the question.

The simple problem is that breaking the rules requires enforcement, which requires the resources of the parks department and police department. An employee is paid to patrol the area each night and remind visitors it’s time to leave, but when they don’t a police officer is needed to unlock the gate that closes vehicle access.

Bourdon was gracious in his description of rule breakers, saying they were doing “activities that are not necessarily associated with a family-friendly park.” 

So, how accommodating should the city be to such behavior?

Some of the possible responses do not seem very satisfactory. Those include charging admission, or installing an automated gate that police could lift remotely. Closing the park, or keeping it open around the clock do also not seem like realistic options. 

Bourdon plans to study the issue, collect data, and return to the council with recommendations in the fall. He’s right in suggesting that there might be no satisfactory solution, other than getting the word out. 

He’s also right in suggesting the problem might get worse if left unchecked. Since police have the discretion of handing out tickets when they’re called to unlock the gate, it could help to increase the fine for staying beyond closing time. Once the word about steep fines gets out it would help persuade visitors to comply.