Editorial: Town needs a better plan for South Lake

Posted 11/21/20

Most folks in town know South Lake Drive, and many will remember the first time they discovered it. Lightly marked and somewhat hidden, it feels almost mysterious, and a new driver might wonder if …

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Editorial: Town needs a better plan for South Lake

Posted

Most folks in town know South Lake Drive, and many will remember the first time they discovered it. Lightly marked and somewhat hidden, it feels almost mysterious, and a new driver might wonder if it’s safe to enter. Yet they enter and a new world opens up.

Traveling one-way off Washington Road, a visitor will find spectacular views of one of southern New England’s most beautiful and exclusive golf courses, the entrance to a great walking trail through preserved woodlands, a stretch of old-growth trees, and glistening Echo Pond, great for fishing or paddling in a canoe. It’s a wonderful little ribbon of a road.

Or, rather, it used to be.

The road is so rutted and broken apart, it requires careful maneuvering for any vehicle. Surprisingly, that’s not what led Town Manager Jim Cunha to close it to motor vehicles. He had two other reasons — underage drinking and illegal dumping.

The underage drinking excuse seems dubious. High school kids have been drinking at night along South Lake Drive since at least the 1970s, and all it takes is one trip from a cruiser to chase them all away. In general, underage drinking in public also seems to be much less a problem than it once was. Back in the day, the kids would gather in woods, fields, cemeteries and beachfronts for their weekend parties — something that excessive development has mostly snuffed out.

The second explanation has merit, as no one wants to see refuse and debris dumped along the roadway. However, it can be reasonably argued that fixing the road, thereby inviting more frequent visitors, might be the best deterrent to illegal behaviors.

Big picture, it feels like this cure is worse than the disease. To prevent a few scofflaws from emptying the backs of their pickup trucks in the woods, the town has blocked access to anyone who can’t reasonably walk or bike there (while maneuvering their fishing poles, kayaks and canoes on their backs). The change also makes this a more exclusive domain, more accessible to those living in the high-end neighborhoods nearby, and less accessible to those living elsewhere in town.

The biggest concern, however, is the long-term plan for South Lake. Changes like this have a habit of becoming permanent. Years from now, after no vehicle has traveled South Lake in many moons, will town leaders invest money in reopening it to the public, or will it remain a somewhat forgotten and exclusive area of natural wonder, blocked from the majority of those living in this community?

Perhaps the new Barrington Town Council can intervene and develop a healthy, long-term plan for lovely South Lake.

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.