‘A disaster waiting to happen’: Stratford, Shelton crack down on access to swimming hole

Photo of Brian Gioiele
The Far Mill River, seen here from Far Mill Park in Shelton.

The Far Mill River, seen here from Far Mill Park in Shelton.

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media

SHELTON — The Far Mill River Park “swimming hole” sits in Stratford but is a major liability issue for Shelton, according to Board of Aldermen President John Anglace Jr.

The swimming hole has for decades been a popular spot for visitors, who come from as far away as New York and Pennsylvania.

The property, located off Route 110 and Main Street in Stratford, has three access points, two of which are located on the Shelton side. One is through city-owned land — known as the Pearl Bach property — located on Manhasset Trail, the other from 865 River Road near the Far Mill River bridge adjacent to a medical office building along a path that leads to the swimming hole.

The third entrance is on the Stratford side on Pine Tree Lane. There are only two to three parking spaces and a sign indicating open space and a path that leads to the swimming hole.

Anglace said Shelton residents in that area have complained for years about the parking and debris left behind by people visiting the area. But the biggest issue, he said, is the inability of either Shelton or Stratford to provide emergency services if needed because access to the site ranges from difficult to nearly impossible.

“This is a huge liability,” Anglace said. “This is a disaster waiting to happen.”

Stratford Mayor Laura Hoydick said the town is trying to do what it can to patrol the area and discourage prohibited activity.

“There have been a lot of out-of-state people there,” Hoydick said. “We’ve been working with Shelton to police it frequently and whenever there’s calls from constituents we send police out there.”

The Far Mill River, seen here from Far Mill Park in Shelton, Conn. July 13, 2020.

The Far Mill River, seen here from Far Mill Park in Shelton, Conn. July 13, 2020.

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media

Michael P. Downes, Hoydick’s chief of staff, said there has been a significant uptick in the number of people going into the Far Mill River area, which has led to an enormous amount of debris at the site.

Downes said there have also been reports of drinking and noise at the location, which has created a nuisance to neighbors.

“As of (Monday) we have posted signage which prohibits swimming and littering and bonfires,” Downes said. “We will also have increased police patrols going forward to enforce these postings.”

Shelton Police Chief Shawn Sequeira said parking and littering are major issues, and in recent years the department has deployed an off-duty officer at the Shelton access to the site on weekends to monitor the area and prevent people from parking illegally. Vehicles parking in commercial lots are towed, Sequeira said.

Shelton Police Officer David Eldridge, who lives in the area, recommended fencing off the Pearl Bach property as well as adding trash receptacles in that area to help reduce the among of debris left on the ground.

“We have got to fence off that property,” agreed Anglace.

Anglace said Mayor Mark Lauretti gave his approval for the the city to seek bids on fencing off the Pearl Bach property in order to prevent people accessing the swimming hole from the Shelton side.

Anglace said the park had been promoted on the Stratford website, yet there is no true access to the site from the Stratford side. Anglace said the Pearl Bach property is “treacherous” with makeshift paths covered with loose stones and steep slopes making the walk to the swimming hole dangerous.

The town of Stratford website states “the approach to this area is difficult since there is very little public parking and the terrain is rough underfoot.”

“The river’s three beautiful waterfalls drop into tranquil pools. On both the Stratford and Shelton sides of the river (both sides are owned by Stratford), there is a path through stands of ancient trees and carpets of wildflowers. The effort required to explore this area is rewarded by the wild beauty and peace of this unique park,” the Stratford website says.

The city of Shelton website notes that public access and much of the park is located within Shelton: “the place is scenic, and every summer it is mobbed by people who drive from as far away as New York to cool down.”

The site also notes that “mountains of litter are left behind, and Shelton residents get stuck picking it up.”

On an older post on the Shelton Anti-Litter Committee website, the “swimming hole” is called part of Shelton’s heritage, starting with the earliest Shelton mills, the ruins of which are scattered across the park.

About 100 years ago, the page states, the trolley line was constructed from Bridgeport to an amusement park called Pine Rock Park that was built above the river. The amusement park was short-lived and was soon developed into summer cottages that took advantage of the nearby falls. Summer homes were converted to year-round dwellings over time.

Staff writer Ethan Fry contributed to this report.