Residents raise concerns as Merrimack neighborhood is overrun with visitors

MERRIMACK – Concerns are growing among residents living in the area of the Wildcat Falls Conservation Area as people flood their neighborhood to utilize local trails.

Residents are reporting people parking their vehicles on both sides of the street and speeding through the neighborhood, which is raising safety concerns. While heading out into the woods is one of the few activities people are able to do during the stay-at-home order, the influx of visitors is now causing problems for those living nearby.

Ursula Gall has lived in the neighborhood since 1963 and has seen things change here the years, explaining how Wildcat Falls is not the quiet, therapeutic place it used to be. Gall understands people need fresh air, but safety in the neighborhood must come first. Gall said the situation has gotten out of control.

“I have never ever seen the cars backed up that far,”  Gall said.  “But see, nobody can stop people from coming, but I think they need to not allow parking on both sides of the road. That’s my one thing.”

She and others living in the neighborhood believe the increased traffic and people parking in the area has gotten worse since the stay-at-home order went into effect. Gall said the speeding down Currier Road is unbelievable, blocking people’s mailboxes and fire hydrants.

For the families in the area who have children, Gall said their kids cannot ride bikes and that people cannot even go for a walk. Gall goes for walks daily, and said she will walk in the woods for an hour every day.

“When I see them coming down Currier road, it’s scary, it’s scary,”  Gall said.

Shannon Lazzaro also lives in the neighborhood with her four children and said that Monday through Friday the kids can ride their bikes, walk the dog and go about playing in the neighborhood safely. However, once the weekends come and the days are nicer, as well as in the evening, the neighborhood experiences a lot of traffic making it no longer safe for the kids, at which point they have to stay in the yard.

“I think it has been increasing over the years in general, but it’s become out of control since the COVID stay-at-home orders,”  Lazzaro said.

Joyce Soucy also lives in the neighborhood and said she does not walk when there are that many cars out. Soucy said there are so many cars and people out that she does not dare walk, citing how she does not feel safe. She noticed the situation getting bad in early March.

“It hadn’t really started to affect me until this virus thing that’s going on, and this is when it got worse,”  Soucy said.  “Before that, I guess we just tolerated it.”

Heidi Marr said in the last two years, there has been more traffic. She also has been noticing trash discarded in front of her fence. Marr believes people should not be parking in front of the neighbors’ yards, and definitely not parking on both sides of the street.

“I stopped going down there because it’s just not enjoyable for me,”  Marr said.

However, for Grace Wilson a larger toll is being taken with her mental health being affected. Wilson lives in the neighborhood with her mother and has PTSD, along with two different brain injuries she sustained in a car accident. In an email, Wilson shared her story and said she does not feel safe in a home she has lived in for 50 years. She said she lives in a constant state of panic and anxiety to the point where she does not go outside in her front yard very often.

“It is getting worse with increased traffic and noise from car alarms, doors and trunks slamming, horns honking … (this) all set my PTSD and panic off,”  Wilson stated.  “Not to mention strangers constantly parking in front of our home.”

Wilson has observed people trespassing, blocking driveways and mailboxes, throwing trash on lawns as well as increased traffic resulting in children not being able to ride their bikes and play. In addition, Wilson said vehicles attempting two-way traffic when cars are parked on the street creates gridlock and dangerous conditions for emergency vehicles to park and stage rescue and recovery.

“I know it’s hard to know who has business cars, but we see plates from all over in the neighborhood – Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, we see plates from everywhere down here,”  Lazzaro said.

Amy Simoneau said it was very busy last weekend and that she remains concerned.

“With the stay-at-home, you would think that they would stay at home or stay in their state, but they’re not,”  Simoneau said.

She believes it is not really suitable for keeping social distancing in mind given the trails are narrow, for the most part. Simoneau said there is a safety issue with the amount of traffic and with not having emergency vehicles be able get down there safely and in a timely manner.

Chief of Police Denise Roy said officers will be concentrating on making sure fire apparatus can get through. The department plans to have officers patrolling the neighborhood on weekends. In addition, another safety measure was taken this week to address speeding in the neighborhood.

“We put up a speed limit sign on Currier Road to try to get people more aware of their speeds going through the neighborhood,”  Roy said.

However, as far as addressing parking, Roy said if officials make it so parking is allowed on just one side of the street and not the other, then half of the people are going to be upset. Roy said officials will do their best to evaluate what the best thing to do for residents down there is and also for the people who are coming to go to the park.

“Unfortunately, right now as it stands, according to the town ordinances, there’s not much we can do unless people are illegally parked,”  Roy said.

People cannot park within 30 feet of a stop sign or block anyone’s driveway.