Boys scramble onto the bridge spanning Cobbossee Lake in Manchester on Tuesday as cars and boats pass by. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

MANCHESTER — A popular unofficial swimming spot where people have been cooling off for decades has gotten too popular for its own good, some local residents and officials fear.

The Outlet, at the intersection of Pond Road and Collins Road in Manchester where Cobbossee Stream flows out of Cobbossee Lake, has a fairly short bridge that people like to jump off into the cool water below. It also has rocky area where others like to swim and relax, and where many families take their kids in a part of Maine where it can be a challenge to legally reach the water to take a dip.

But neighbors say it has far too many people. They say many are respectful, but others drink beer and smoke pot, occasionally pick fights, leave behind trash, don’t always watch their kids, and put themselves and others at risk by darting into and across the road and bridge, which is just after a sharp corner.

Problems at the spot seem to be worse this summer as, some locals speculate, people around the region have fewer public swimming options. That is largely because the coronavirus pandemic led to the closure of some parks and public pools.

“I fear, one night, someone is going to come around this corner and hit a 2-year-old in the street who is not being watched,” said Sara Burns, who lives near the site. “I was motivated to speak up because I’m scared to death someone is going to get hit.”

Longtime resident Dave Dodge, who operates the town’s dam just below the swimming spot, said he swam there some 60 years ago. He said it has always been a popular spot to swim and socialize.

But at a recent gathering of local residents, officials, police officers and state Department of Transportation officials at the site, Dodge said at times this summer there have been more than 50 people there at once, many of them standing on the bridge partially blocking traffic and creating a safety hazard. And others were drinking beer and smoking pot — neither of which are legal in public places.

“There are more people this year than ever,” said Dodge, who said he believes the larger crowds are related to a lack of other places where the public can swim.  “It’s an unruly crowd this year, too.”

People swimming and hanging out at the site on a recent hot afternoon said their kids love to swim there and there aren’t many other places where they can go for a free swim.

Felisha Taylor of Manchester stood on the shore on town-owned land just off Collins Road and watched as her stepdaughter, 11-year-old Chelsea DeRusha, jumped off the bridge with her friends.

“She asks to come here every day,” Taylor said. “She loves to swim, she’s like a fish, and she meets her friends here.

“It’s mostly children here, it’s good to get them out of the house and active,” she added. “And I can’t think of other places to swim, unless you have a pool.”

But Taylor agreed bad behavior at the site has been a regular occurrence, which she said sets a bad example for children. She said she doesn’t ask the people taking part to stop, because she doesn’t want to have any problems with them and wants to be able to return to the swimming spot without any hassles.

Some neighbors also said they fear retribution if they speak up. One resident who has had problems with people parking in her driveway and on her lawn asked that her name not be used in the paper. The site is surrounded by a neighborhood of multiple homes and camps.

Officials said littering is a problem at the site, though it is kept in check by a neighbor or two who regularly pick up the trash of others and dispose of it.

Kennebec County Sheriff’s Lt. Chris Read said police have responded to break up fights at the spot.

He and Lt. Jason Madore, troop commander for Maine State Police Troop C, said police will make it a priority to check the spot for troublemakers more often.

Madore said there is only so much they can do, and if they write tickets for relatively minor violations, a busy court system may mean those charges get dismissed. He suggested the town be proactive in spreading the word about problems at the site, in the hope people will police each other rather than risk losing access to it.

“We’ll make courtesy stops here and engage with our citizens,” Madore said. “People don’t want to lose this.”

John Sheets of Gardiner was at the site recently with his 4-year-old son Brody and 11-year-old daughter Jacey. He said he brings the kids there regularly to take a dip. They also sometimes fish, but he said it’s so busy there it’s not good for fishing.

Sheets said most state parks and beaches charge admission, so it’s nice to have a free spot where they can cool off and relax.

“It’s this or sit on the couch with the air conditioning on and watch TV,” he said, as Brody played next to the shallow water’s edge with a makeshift bow and arrow made with two sticks and a piece of string.

Swimmers return to cars parked Tuesday on the Collins Road along Cobbossee Lake in Manchester. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

But crowds are getting so big, he said, he understands why the town would consider taking action. Sometimes cars are parked on both sides of the road, Sheets said, making it so narrow only one vehicle can pass at a time. He said he doesn’t let his near children the road.

Sheets attributed rowdy behavior to groups of young men, sometimes as many as 10 or 15 arriving at a time. A couple of weeks ago, he said, a group of a dozen young men chased another one to their truck, throwing things at him.

Often, Sheets said, cars there have out-of-state license plates, and he speculated people are finding the location due to Google searches. He also pointed out a charred pile of sticks where someone had started a fire in the grass, which he said wasn’t there the day before.

To address the concerns, Town Manager E. Patrick Gilbert said selectmen recently decided to put up no parking signs on the nonwater side of Collins Road. They also plan to extend an existing guardrail on Collins Road, from the Pond Road intersection, further down the road to block easy access to that piece of town-owned property. The town also plans to put in some bushes and other vegetation to hinder access to the waterfront.

Gilbert said selectmen initially considered barring public access across the town’s land there, but softened that stance out of concern people may want to fish, or launch a canoe or kayak in that spot. It is unclear whether town officials could decide to ban swimming from the parcel. Gilbert said selectmen will discuss the issue more at their meeting Tuesday.

Gilbert said the no parking signs could be up in about a week, and he’s meeting with a guardrail company Monday to discuss extending it.

David Allen, a regional engineer for the state Department of Transportation, said the state could put signs up on the bridge advising people not to jump off it or discouraging people from gathering there. But he said such signs often aren’t effective and, if the rules aren’t enforced a sign will “just be a decoration.”


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