Middlebury seeks to regulate ‘Happy Trail’

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury town officials are taking steps to close public land off Mill Street to overnight camping, in reaction to recent reports of people living along a popular trail bordering the Otter Creek.
At issue is a patch of town-owned land informally dubbed the “Happy Trail” that hugs the creek in the Frog Hollow neighborhood. Middlebury Police Chief Tom Hanley said people walking the trail have noticed folks camping out for apparently lengthy stays.
“People want to walk down there and they see an unknown person, usually a transient,” Hanley told the selectboard last week.
Authorities are concerned that the people camping off the Happy Trail might be drinking alcohol and/or using narcotics.
“It makes it an attractive nuisance, rather than a place everyone can enjoy,” Hanley said.
As a result, Hanley has proposed  an amendment to the town’s ordinance for the daily closing of parks. This would allow the town to restrict use of the Happy Trail to certain hours of the day, between 6:30 a.m. and 9 p.m. Hanley has also proposed adding to the ordinance the soon-to-be-created park at the current municipal building/gym complex at 94 Main St.
“It seems like a good resolution,” Selectwoman Laura Asermily said.
At the same time, Middlebury officials are alerting local human service agencies to the presence of transients seeking local spots to set up camp.
The selectboard voted unanimously to proceed with the ordinance amendment, a process that will include public input.
Hanley also proposed adjusting the community’s junk ordinance in an effort to give it more teeth in compel offenders to clean up their property. Hanley explained that the current criminal penalty is capped at $800. Changing the infraction to a civil offense, Hanley said, would allow the courts to attach a lien to the offender’s property if he or she refuses to comply with cleanup orders. The chief is also seeking to amend the ordinance to require that a complaint come from an “interested person,” such as a neighbor; allow for tickets to be written for a continuing offense; and for law enforcement to “remove or cause to be removed the offending junk or junk vehicle” at the owner’s expense should there be no responses following court decisions on the complaint(s).
“I think the civil route is a much more effective one,” Hanley concluded.
The board voted unanimously to support the proposed junk law amendments.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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