CONWAY — The weekend parking snarls at Diana’s Baths, with traffic often backing up onto West Side Road, is much improved, Town Manager Tom Holmes told selectmen July 9.
Holmes said the tensions at the recreation area — a series of cascades and pools managed by the U.S. Forest Service accessed by a scenic trail — last year didn’t rise to the level of “road rage,” but there was a lot of “horn beeping” and “bird flipping” by people trying to get to the Baths.
No parking signs were posted along West Side Road near the Baths in 2017, and the penalty was raised from $10 to $100 per violation.
Last year, ideas for dealing with the overflow ranged from posting people in the parking lot to a taxi shuttle running from North Conway Village.
This year, however, Holmes said he hired a new attendant there and she’s “great.”
“We are 85 percent of this thing functioning,” said Holmes about how much the situation has improved.
He said parking lot attendant Berdine Weiner of Conway came up with the idea of having visitors queue up in the southbound lane as much off the road as possible.
“Bartlett hasn’t complained yet, or anyone living up that way,” said Holmes. “It allows for two-way traffic; it allows for an orderly waiting line.”
Typically there are a dozen or so cars waiting to get in the lot, though the high point was 54 cars. As spaces open up, attendants let people into the parking lot.
Holmes said he hired two people to do the work. One was Weiner, the other Paul Hagerty of Conway. They do three-to-four-hour shifts with a half-hour overlap for lunch.
Holmes at the meeting said Hagerty also is doing a good job.
Two people are needed per day because it’s hot out, Holmes said.
B.J. Parker, who runs the town welfare department, fills in as a substitute attendant on a contract basis.
“I loved it,” said Parker. “It was fun.”
Parker said when she arrived at 9:30 a.m., the parking lot was full and there was a line. Shortly after that, the wait time expanded to about 45 minutes to an hour all day long.
Hagarty worked the parking lot entrance while Parker walked down the line of cars to inform them about the wait, suggest alternative sites, distribute payment envelopes (the fee is $5) and remind them to get their sunscreen and bug spray on in the car rather than doing that while parked in the lot. She even gave copies of The Conway Daily Sun out to those parked in line.
She said people told her the Baths were worth the wait. “People were cool,” said Parker.
She said there were a few issues. One man who was passing through was rude to her and another driver drove his truck fast and too close to other cars.
Parker said she had her hand on a visitor’s car when the truck went through and she could feel the whoosh of air from the truck on the car.
One person parked in a handicapped spot and denied a group a handicapped people a spot, said Parker, adding that sometimes people who pulled over on the side of the road to pick someone up would confuse other drivers who were waiting in line.
The attendants are part-time seasonal help making $15 per hour. Forest service staff also help if the attendant needs to step away.
Holmes said if attendants leave their post even for a moment, the line cutters pounce and there’s “chaos almost immediately.”
For the most part, attendants work on weekends and some holidays, but they also worked the holiday Fourth of July week. Maybe next year, a gate could be installed, Holmes suggested.
In addition to creating order out of chaos, attendants also hand out Mt. Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce brochures with suggestions for alternate places to visit. Similar attractions promoted by the chamber include Glen Ellis Falls, Beecher and Pearl Cascades, and Arethusa Falls.
Janice Crawford, executive director of the chamber, told the Sun it is the third summer since the parking signs went up, and they have not gotten any complaints.
“This serves as a great example of a public/private partnership with the municipality and the business community working toward solving issues,” said Crawford.
Conway Police Lt. Chris Mattei agreed that progress has been made there, although on July 5 there was a spike in calls and tickets because an attendant wasn’t available.
“We found that when the parking attendant is on scene, there is a dramatic reduction in calls,” said Mattei, adding that’s a tribute to the job the attendants are doing.