That's what one reader said about the apparent zeal with which the New Britain Water Department tickets cars parked along a town road near a popular hiking and mountain biking spot in Burlington. Last week, I wrote about the Devil's Kitchen rock formation along the orange-dot section of the Connecticut Forest & Park Association's Blue-Blazed Tunxis Trail. Just about every guide I consulted for the trip said parking was located off Scoville Road.
But after the column ran, I was flooded with e-mails from people who have received tickets, both before the column ran and after. One couple parked in the same place I did and were given a $30 ticket for trespassing on private property. "Why is there no parking for a public trail?" the e-mailer asked.
Al Mackiewicz — "Al Mack for short," he said when I called him — is in charge of the crews that hand out tickets. Historically, the parking area has been open to hikers, but a recent court decision and an influx of mountain bikers changed that, Mackiewicz said.
Earlier this year, Maribeth Blonski won a $2 million settlement of a negligence lawsuit after she crashed her bike into a gate at the Metropolitan District Commission's Farmington Avenue reservoir. Mackiewicz said that settlement, as well as finding 42 cars — mostly of mountain bikers, he said — using the parking area one weekend factored into the company's decision.
"That pushed us over the edge," he said of the settlement. "Someone is going to get hurt sooner or later, and we want to make sure we are doing all we can legally to prevent that."
So the message is this: While the trails across the company's land remain open, the convenient parking area is not. Although the water department is not threatening to close this portion of the Tunxis Trail, they are aggressively putting up "no parking, no trespassing" signs and ticketing those who park on their land.
The forest and park association, which monitors this trail and more than 825 miles of trails across the state, said it was unaware of the parking ban. Because the state's trails cross a combination of public and private land, the group routinely updates conditions involving trails and parking areas. Clare Cain, the association's trail stewardship director, said the group was never told of the closure and are working on the issue.
The New Britain Water Department owns more than 8,000 acres in several towns, including 4,000 in Burlington, where the city gets three-quarters of its water. Mackiewicz said the city recently donated 400 acres to the nearby 455-acre Sessions Woods Wildlife Management area.
"We are not all that mean," he said with a chuckle.
Until further notice, parking for the Tunxis Trail is available at nearby Sessions Woods on Route 69. And do get out and enjoy Devil's Kitchen and the rest of the Tunxis Trail as it winds through town – before the water company tightens its grip any further.
"It's unfortunate," Burlington First Selectwoman Catherine Bergstrom said. "It has been a great working relationship all this time."
Peter Marteka can be reached at 860-647-5365 or firstname.lastname@example.org or at The Courant, 200 Adams St., Manchester CT 06040.