HALLOWELL — A Topsham man is vowing to never come back to Hallowell after police towed his vehicle away from Middle Street in October, underlining an issue with parking at one of the city’s most prominent attractions.

Parking at the Vaughan Woods trailhead, just east of the intersection of Litchfield Road and Middle Street, can quickly overflow during peak times. Overflow parking has gathered around the intersection of Middle Street and Litchfield Road, as well as a portion of Litchfield Road between Middle and Summer streets. There is a no parking sign on the south side of Litchfield Road between Middle and Summer streets, but no sign on Middle Street.

The rules are much more clear in Hallowell’s parking ordinance, which states there is no parking “on both sides of Litchfield Road from Second Street to Middle Street” and “on both sides of Middle Street from Litchfield Road to Grove Street.” Police Chief Eric Nason told the Kennebec Journal on Monday that any parked car that forces a traveling vehicle across the centerline or into the oncoming lane is in violation of the local ordinance, regardless of any signage on the street.

“You don’t park your car on Western Avenue and go into McDonald’s,” he said, referencing the highly-traveled Augusta road. “There’s not as much traffic (on Litchfield Road) but the same principle applies.”

Patrol Sgt. Jordan Gaudet said the department has tried to alert people through social media that additional parking is available at Hall-Dale High School, where there is an alternate trailhead for the woods. Nason said any outreach is likely to miss a section of visitors to Vaughan Woods because some come from out-of-state.

Topsham resident Charles Annable, 57, said he and his family visited Vaughan Woods on Oct. 26 and had some trouble finding a spot at the trailhead, which has about 15 spots, according to Nason. When Annable returned about an hour later, he said he saw a Hallowell police officer, but no sign of his vehicle. He quickly learned that his car was towed after he said the officer handed his wife a card for the towing company and he overheard another man on the phone with the company.

“We turned on to Middle Street and there is no sign there and I saw a parking spot that I thought might work,” he said, adding that he thought the spot was not in the travel lane. “I noticed, as soon as I did (that), people followed what I did.”

A picture taken that day, provided to the Kennebec Journal by Annable, shows a line of seven vehicles parked near the intersection of Litchfield Road and Middle Street, several of which are obstructing the northbound lane of the road. Nason told the Kennebec Journal that seven cars were towed that day and the department responded to a traffic complaint in the area caused by the cars. Gaudet described the turns from Middle Street and Second Street onto Litchfield Road as “blind corners,” which makes obstructions more dangerous.

This October photo shows cars parked on Middle Street near the Vaughan Woods trailhead, which Hallowell police say creates a dangerous obstruction. Charles Annable’s vehicle, the navy Chrysler in the foreground, was towed from the street with other cars back in October. Hallowell’s parking ordinance states that all of the cars visible in the photo are parked illegally, despite no signage on the road denoting a “no parking” area. Photo courtesy of Charles Annable

Annable said another visitor to Vaughan Woods took him and two others to the towing company in West Gardiner, where he paid $90 for his vehicle back. There also was a $15 parking ticket from Hallowell under the windshield wiper. Annable said he thought the ticket was punishment enough.

“I think perhaps maybe a ticket was in line,” he said, “but I’ve parked in a lot of cities around this country and never been towed for something like that.”

The situation prompted Annable to write a letter to Nason, City Manager Nate Rudy, the Vaughan Homestead and the Kennebec Journal. Annable said he received a “polite” reply from Nason. In the response, which Annable provided to the Kennebec Journal, Nason said it was “extremely dangerous” to park on Middle Street in that fashion because it can “obstruct views and cause motorists to move out around parked vehicles.”

“His reply was decent enough,” Annable said. “I was somewhat wrong, I just think the response was heavy-handed.”

Gaudet said the department tries to find contact information for the owners of the vehicles before having vehicles towed, but if they can’t contact the owner, towing the vehicles is the only option to clear the road of any obstructions.

“We do everything possible to not tow the vehicles,” he said. “We gain nothing from (towing vehicles).”

That intersection has not seen a reportable car accident — with personal injury or more than $1,000 in property damage — in the last three years, nor can Gaudet recall an accident at the intersection being caused by overflow parking obstructing the travel lane.

Annable said the city should consider putting a no parking sign on Middle Street and more-obviously direct people to parking at the trailhead near Hall-Dale High School in Farmingdale.

Nason said the department has floated putting no parking signs on Litchfield Road, but not Middle Street because the painted double lines on the road are “much more obvious” than on the section of Litchfield Road between Middle and Second streets.

Annable said he would no longer be visiting Hallowell on account of the incident, despite the kind actions and words of bystanders and those who helped him retrieve his vehicle.

“I like the town because I like (the) boardwalk along the river,” he said. “We planned to have dinner, but (having my car towed) ruined the day for us.”

Kate Tremblay, executive director of the Vaughn Homestead, was not available for comment Tuesday.

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