South Hadley, state officials plot better public access to Lithia Springs

  • Although there are no parking signs posted at the entrance to Lithia Springs Road in South Hadley, people are allowed to park on a small section of unpaved road at the end of the street and at the beginning of the trail. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Although there are “no parking” signs posted at the entrance to Lithia Springs Road in South Hadley, people are allowed to park on a small section of unpaved road at the end of the street where the trail begins. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Katie Callaway plays with her children, Gunnar Hersom,4, and not shown, Colt Callaway,11, at Lithia Springs Reservoir. Katie Callaway grew up going to the reservoir and was happy she got one of the limited parking spots on Monday afternoon. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • No parking signs posted at the entrance to Lithia Springs Road in South Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Katie Callaway plays with her children, Gunnar Hersom, 4, left, and Colt Callaway, 11, at Lithia Springs Reservoir in South Hadley. Callaway grew up going to the reservoir and was happy she got one of the limited parking spots on Monday afternoon. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Signs posted as one enters Lithia Springs Reservoir. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jason Cahoon and Mikayla McEwen’s dog, Baker, enjoys a swim at Lithia Spring Reservoir in South Hadley Monday, June 21, 2021. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jason Cahoon and Mikayla McEwen walk their dog, Baker, at Lithia Spring Reservoir in South Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jason Cahoon and Mikayla McEwen’s dog, Baker, enjoys a swim at Lithia Spring Reservoir in South Hadley on Monday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Bryan Clarke, of South Hadley, walks out of the Lithia Springs Reservoir trail and talks about the confusion of where one is allowed to park and where one is not in the area. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Hannah Patruno, of South Hadley, at Lithia Spring Reservoir in South Hadley on Monday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 6/21/2021 8:55:06 PM

SOUTH HADLEY — Ever since she was a child, Katie Callaway has been visiting Lithia Springs Reservoir.

“This place means a lot to a lot of South Hadley people,” she said, remembering how she used to hike into the wooded area to hang out with friends as a high schooler.

On Monday morning, Callaway had her own two children, 11-year-old Colt and 4-year-old Gunnar, down by the water to cool off on a hot day. For Gunnar, it was a frog croaking loudly that had his attention.

“We heared it in there!” he said with delight, spraying a tiny water gun in the general direction of the noise.

For those looking to enjoy the Department of Conservation and Recreation-owned land, however, access and parking are far from a delight. Hikers, neighbors and local and state officials have all expressed their own dissatisfaction with the lack of parking near the trailhead leading to the reservoir and the myriad problems that causes.

Now, with an explosion of interest in local hiking during the COVID-19 pandemic, the town administrator, DCR and local water district plan to meet to plot a path forward amid increasing rancor over the problems. But those problems are long-standing, and it’s not altogether clear that there is a solution imminent, Town Administrator Michael Sullivan said.

“We have limitations, the state has limitations, and the public has a desire to access this public land, which they are very much entitled to,” Sullivan said. “It’s a tough balance.”

Big disruption

For residents of Lithia Springs Road, the cars that back up onto their street on sunny days have become a problem, exacerbated by the tendency of some hikers to use residents’ private property to access the trails.

“It’s chaos,” said Dennis Rochon, a homeowner on the road since 1991.

Rochon said that visitors frequently leave trash and disrupt the privacy of residents on the road. He said that people camp on the land overnight because of a lack of DCR staffing, causing neighbors to worry that they may spark a forest fire. And he noted that swimming is not allowed in the reservoir. 

“It’s absolutely crazy. Dogs barking all the time, horns beeping all the time … I have kind of reached my limits,” he said.

South Hadley police recently began strictly enforcing a parking ban on Lithia Springs Road, towing cars and warning visitors with a large electronic message board: “NO PARKING.” But there is a small, unpaved stretch at the end of the small road, just before the trailhead, that the town does not own.

That stretch of road is where many visitors park, but it too carries its own perils. The road’s potholes and rough appearance — signs of its disputed ownership — make driving so difficult that one visitor on Monday, Jason Cahoon, said he completely destroyed his car falling into a nasty pothole last summer.

“I had to get a new car,” he said as his dog, Baker, shook water from its fur.

The town and Water Department District #2 worked together some years ago to create a hikers’ parking lot around Route 116. But that requires walking along the highway just to get from the parking lot to the start of the hike into the woods to access the reservoir. Callaway said that makes an already lengthy, mile-long hike to the reservoir even more difficult for children or those carrying things in to spend the day next to the water.

“The parking thing is definitely kind of weird,” hiker Bryan Clarke said Monday.

Clarke said the Route 116 parking area has private property signs all around it, making it a bit confusing. Adding to that confusion is the town’s message that it is towing cars from Lithia Springs Road, only for people to get away with parking on the unpaved portion of the road. “It’s just a lot of mixed messages,” he said.

The state purchased the 615-acre property around two decades ago. Since then, the state, town and water district have had a collective problem on their hands: how to work together to ensure access to public land while respecting the private property of abutters.

Last week, town and DCR officials met to discuss a cooperative plan to improve access to Lithia Springs. And on Monday, Sullivan said he would loop in the water department, which is part of South Hadley Fire District 2.

James Menard, chairman of the South Hadley Fire District 2 Prudential Committee, said Monday that he has been in touch with state lawmakers about the problems. Menard noted that he was a water commissioner when the district sold Lithia Springs to the state.

“They’ve always had problems accessing it, the land that we sold, and the trails that are up there,” he said.

Menard said the district has a plot of land it would propose selling to the state that would allow direct access from the Route 116 parking lot to the trails and reservoir. But the state would still have to put some kind of trail system on that property to ensure those parking there could then access the land.

“If we can reach a deal with the state and DCR I think it would be a great access point,” he said. A deal of this kind would address the access problem, provide the district with some money and reduce neighbors’ headaches — something Rochon agrees with.

Attempts to reach a DCR spokesperson for comment were unsuccessful Monday afternoon.

Asked Monday whether he was confident a solution could be found, Sullivan didn’t sound optimistic. “These conversations have been going on for 10, 12 years,” he said.

For Callaway and her family, though, they’re hoping officials can finally move forward on the issue.

“I hope they are able to figure it out and work with each other,” she said. “So everyone can enjoy it.”

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.


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