BEACON FALLS — A large chain-link fence blocks Cold Spring Road just after the last residence, and “No Trespassing” signs are posted on the fence and trees around the area.
Cold Spring Road, which was the town’s entrance to the Naugatuck State Forest, was closed by Connecticut’s Department of Transportation at the end of May to replace a railroad bridge. The road was slated to be reopened for public use in September, but has been closed for the indefinite future as the DOT has deemed the road unsafe for public use.
In a letter to First Selectman Gerard Smith, DOT Rail Administrator Eugene Colonese wrote the primary purpose of the access road is for Metro-North Railroad personnel to maintain railroad infrastructure. The gravel access road was never designed or built for public access and its proximity to an active railroad track poses a major safety concern for pedestrians entering the park at this location, the letter states.
The decision to close the road is one Smith is fighting.
“This road has been open for 100 years and there have been no incidents,” Smith said.
Smith said the DOT has been working to make the decision permanent for some time, and his administration has been working against that decision.
One of the reasons that Smith is against this decision is that Cold Spring Road was to have been part of the town’s greenway project. The town had recently finished the streetscape along South Main Street, and had planned to tie Cold Spring Road into it.
At the time, the DOT did not raise any concerns or inform the town that there was a chance the road could remain closed indefinitely, Smith said.
“If they were opposed to this roadway, I don’t understand why they let us spend the money,” Smith said.
Smith was also concerned about the safety issue that the fence raised. He pointed out that the town’s emergency personnel are still responsible for any incident that occurs in the town’s portion of the forest. This means that emergency officials have to open and close the gate whenever they are headed into the forest.
“If it’s a life threatening situation at the bottom of High Rock, you’ve just added time,” Smith said.
Smith pointed out that a Waterbury man who went missing in the forest in June for nearly a week was found on Cold Spring Road.
Smith said that closing the road also did not take the residents into consideration. Anyone living in Beacon Falls who wants to hike in the forest now can only enter through Black Forest Road in Naugatuck. According to Google Maps, the end of Black Forest Road is approximately a 350 foot walk from the end of Cold Spring Road. However, driving between the same locations is over 8 miles.
“Going into Naugatuck, people have to come over roads that are not in good shape when we can just buzz down the street,” Smith said. “Closing that road did not take into consideration the people who frequent the High Rock Park on the west side of Route 8.”
Representatives from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection had originally met with Smith to see if there was a way to keep the road open. DEEP spokesman Dwayne Gardner said in an email that, while the DEEP wants to see the road open, they are differing to the DOT’s decision.
“DEEP is interested in reopening access but recognizes safety improvements need to be made and defers to DOT to determine what those improvements are,” Gardner wrote.
A message left with the DOT seeking comment was not returned as of this post.