Residents-only policy worked, council says

MERRIMACK – A rule restricting Wasserman Park beach access to residents was a big success this summer, according to some town officials.

“I think the ordinance worked out exceptionally well,” said Sherry Kalish, the town’s parks and recreation director.

The town council reviewed the new rule Thursday, which went into effect this spring after some leaders said the beach was being overcrowded by out-of-towners, and that Merrimack taxpayers shouldn’t be elbowed out of land that belongs to them.

The ordinance stipulates that nonresidents found at the beach are subject to warnings, with further violations resulting in fines and even court summonses. It also specifies certain parking requirements.

Pointing to the tame statistics coming from beach patrols this summer, police chief Michael Milligan summed it up simply: “We had a very good year there.”

Residents who didn’t know about the rule received written explanations on their windshields, Milligan said. In all, Kalish said, her office issued 30-50 placards, with more than 100 more handed out at Town Hall.

In written e-mail correspondence made available to the public, Jessica Chase, who directs waterfront activities, wrote that she noticed a “big difference” at Wasserman this summer, with two or three “minor rescues as opposed to other summers where we might have that many in a day due to inattentive adults, which generally were not Merrimack residents.”

Kalish added that she’d heard a lot of verbal compliments from residents and received four e-mails regarding the rule.

Merrimack resident Kate Lackey wrote that the atmosphere at Wasserman was “powerfully community-oriented. I don’t know if the reason for this town spirit is the resident restriction, but it seems likely.”

Two of the messages, Kalish said, were from out-of-towners asking the council to reconsider its decision.

“As a frequent guest of Wasserman Park who is a non Merrimack resident I was saddened to hear this news,” wrote Tracy Spencer of Nashua in May. “My two young boys (ages 5 and 2) and I have great memories of swimming at the lake all last summer.”

Several councilors verbally renewed their support for the rule Thursday.

“I’ve gotten tremendous feedback from residents of the town who used it for the first time in a long time,” said Councilor Mike Malzone.

Discussion of beach use really began in the summer of 2007, when police were called to the beach to handle a group of out-of-towners who’d reportedly been drinking.

The group claimed not to understand the English signs prohibiting alcohol at the park.

Police and the town’s parks department requested that Spanish signs be posted, which the council denied, sparking some controversy well beyond Merrimack’s borders.

“I think all of us had some concerns, and some people still don’t like it,” said Councilor Nancy Harrington.

“To know there’s been so minimal a response related to imposing this ordinance . . . it feels good.”

Milligan said the police department would continue its efforts at the beach next year.