By Daymond Steer
CONWAY — Parking issues near Diana's Baths apparently have not been solved with the addition of "no parking" signs up and down West Side Road.
Now, Conway selectmen and White Mountain National Forest head rangers are scratching their heads trying to come up with a new solution.
Diana's Baths is a recreation area managed by the U.S. Forest Service. The trailhead is off West Side Road a few miles from North Conway Village.
The topic of parking arose last July, when Gregory Sullivan, whose family has a vacation home nearby, complained about vehicles parking along his property.
On May 9, selectmen decided to look into adjusting the fine amount after the state Department of Transportation agreed to post West Side Road with "no parking" signs in the area to address safety concerns there due to overflow from the parking lot.
Selectmen said with vehicles parked along it, the line of sight is compromised. They feared a child could be hit by a car.
The Forest Service is concerned that Diana's Baths is being overused, leading to issues like litter, erosion, tree root damage and diminished water quality.
Selectmen met recently with Saco District Ranger Jim Innes to discuss issues that have cropped up since the "no parking" signs went up.
Town Manager Earl Sires started things off by saying that people are now leaving their cars beyond the "no parking" signs and walking a far way along the road. He also said drivers are pulling into the parking lot and waiting for spots to open up. The line for a spot has spilled out onto West Side Road.
"We have unhappy landowners in that area," said Sires. "They put their own 'no parking' signs up.
"We found the only way we can manage this situation is for the town to put a police officer there on the street ... and for the forest service to have two staff folks, one at the entrance and one inside trying to manage that problem."
Innes said things were going pretty well until July 4. He agreed with Sires.
"What we are discovering is if we are not in the lot, we lose the lot, and if Conway is not in the street, we lose the street," said Innes. "We have to stop them at the gate and put up a sign that says the lot is full."
Innes confirmed that it really takes two people to manage the lot — one to count open parking spaces and the other to hold drivers back. He said he will try and make a couple of emergency hires to meet that staffing need.
Sires said the ideas they are considering is having a bus to shuttle people to the Baths, as well as putting the "no parking" signs further south on West Side Road.
Selectman Mary Carey Seavey asked why they would consider shuttles if there was a concern about overuse, and Innes replied that mainly the parking situation is a public safety problem. He thought a shuttle probably woudn't solve the parking problem anyway.
"People really don't want to get away from their cars," he said.
Innes said some visitors drive from long distances away to see the falls and when they get there and find they can't park, they get frustrated because their plans have been thwarted. He said, "Now what am I going to do?" is a common refrain.
The forest staff hands out information about other places to visit but that involves stopping in front of the parking lot and creating a traffic jam.
Another possibility, said Innes, is paving the lot and defining the spaces. They wouldn't have the authority to put in parking meters. He even suggested it may be necessary to put up a gate that opens only when there is a space available.
"Get here early if you want to get here," said Innes. "Don't show up around noon and expect a spot."