FAIRFIELD — The Fairfield city council will hear an update on the progress the Parks and Recreations Department has made in trying to get more people to use its parks, primarily Lee Bell Park in the center of the city and Alan Witt Park. Park usage has been declining according to a report issued to the council.
The primary reason is homeless people who frequent the park. There has been so much vandalism at Lee Bell that the bathrooms have been closed. Measures like security cameras, new lighting, fencing to keep people out of the ball fields, and removing picnic tables and benches have not discouraged the homeless and others from hanging out in the park all day long.
Trash including liquor bottles are strewn about the park, and a group of men were congregated at the spot where the picnic tables once were. They were sitting on plastic crates and folding chairs.
“Lee Bell is really bad, I won’t go there, I won’t take my kids there, I’m afraid they’ll find hypodermic needles, condoms – whatever,” said Annie Jack, the mother of 13 including several adopted kids.
She was at Alan Witt Park on Tuesday with her family. There were also a number of others in the north end picnic area where homeless people gather. Jack said the homeless have a right to be in the park, but she suggested a designated spot for them.
“They’re further away from the children playing and this front area needs to be for family and children,” said Jack.
That’s probably not legal but it outlines the challenges for Parks and Rec to establish a design and usage plan for the city parks.
The report says that Alan Witt Park has some of the same issues. A bathroom near the skate park and baseball fields has been closed and there have been complaints about break-ins at youth baseball storage sheds in the park.
Parks and Rec Director Ann Mattola said closing the bathrooms isn’t the best solution but one that works because many youth leagues bring their own portable toilets. She also said Lee Bell is a neighborhood park where restrooms aren’t as crucial as regional facilities like Alan Witt where there are multiple bathroom locations.
Mattola says the homeless problem is more common nationwide, not just in Fairfield. She says she wants to use community meetings to come up with proposals on how the residents want to best use the parks. She believes events like movie nights and other special activities will ease the problem.
”We’ve seen an increase in homeless, but we’ve also seen the more we can activate and program our parks the less we see that kind of congregation at our park sites,” said Matoola.
She is seeking direction from the city council before a master plan is created for city parks which will focus on Lee Bell, Alan Witt and the Linear Trail sites.