Island Grove Park will now be closed to nighttime dogwalkers, joggers, fishermen, and, especially, miscreants and ne’er-do-wells.
The Board of Selectmen voted 3-2 Monday night to close the park from dusk to dawn in an effort to end persistent problems with noise, vandalism, and unruly gatherings.
Selectmen Alex Bezanson, Michael Kolodjiez, and Alex Hagerty voted in favor; Kevin DiMarzio and Timothy Chapin voted against.
While there has been a long-standing rule against swimming in the Island Grove Pool afterhours, the rest of the historic park has remained open for public use, even at night. The policy change, which will take effect as soon as signs are posted, means those caught in the park at night by police can be cited for trespassing, said Town Manager Scott Lambiase.
Police Chief David Del Papa, Fire Chief John Nuttall, and Public Works Director John Stone all recommended the closure, Lambiase told selectmen. Police have been called to the park regularly during warm weather months to break up gatherings. Del Papa said a couple of the groups lately have been very large and uncooperative, requiring Abington police to call in officers from surrounding towns to assist.
“Currently, we don’t have the staff to patrol there,” he told selectmen earlier this month, adding they do frequent checks of the area as call volume allows.
Selectman Tim Chapin was concerned whether the closure would have the desired impact, or just result in Abington Police chasing more calls at the park.
“You’re kicking out the people who use the park for good,” said Chapin. “You’re just going to increase calls because some [neighbor] is going to say ‘I saw somebody walking in the park’ and now the police have got to go check it out.”
Selectman Kevin DiMarzio wondered if the dusk-to-dawn closure should be applied to all town parks, not just Island Grove.
Parks and Recreation Chairwoman Rachel Collins said while the board didn’t take a formal vote on the nighttime closure plan, it has been frustrated in recent years by the rise in afterhour problems at the park, and is generally supportive of the new policy.
“It hasn’t been fair to pool staff who have to deal with disrespectful visitors when they’re leaving, or cleanup the trash and vandalized property when they arrive in the morning,” she said.
Daniel Howland, who lives on Wilson Place near the entrance to Memorial Bridge, said music from portable speakers easily carries across the water from the park to his neighborhood. He told selectmen he’s called the police at 2:30 a.m. because of the ruckus being raised at the grove.
“People are over there causing all sorts of noise,” Howland said, adding there’s also a problem with vehicles along Lake Street.
The police department installed several cameras in Island Grove a couple years ago, but there isn’t a person assigned to specifically monitor the cameras. The lack of fencing around the park also makes it easy for people to run off into the woods once they know police are on their way.
Nuttall said while he doesn’t want to limit access to public parks, he felt it was justified for Island Grove. Not only is there an unsupervised swimming area, but he said late-night visitors have been setting camp fires.
Chapin said he thinks the closure will only deter rule-following residents, not scofflaws.
“I feel bad for the guy who works 12-8 who wants to come home and take his dog for a walk through Island Grove, because it’s still nice out,” Chapin said. “The kids who are going in there drinking, or going in there and lighting picnic tables on fire, a sign that says its closed is not going to stop them.”