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Council members still voice safety concerns about Thompson Park sledding

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With this year’s season soon ending, city officials are still looking at ways to prevent sledders from getting injured at Thompson Park.

The Watertown City Council agreed Monday night to look at possible solutions over the coming year and before sledders return next season to a hill in the park where the winter activity has been popular for generations.

To prevent injuries, Parks and Recreation Department workers installed mesh ski fencing at the hill’s bottom — near stone fencing at Park Circle — and also put up snow fencing on the hill to slow down sledders. But someone tore down the snow fencing about five or six times, forcing parks crews to keep replacing it.

“It’s vandalism,” said Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham, declaring the responsible individuals, if caught, should be arrested on charges of damaging city property.

Years ago, the city put up a sign warning people they would sled at their own risk. But after the first large snowfall each winter, the sledders come back — some saying it’s a rite of passage.

As recently as last weekend, a couple of late-season sledders were enjoying the activity. But a section of the snow fencing was torn away to allow sledders a more adventurous ride down the hill.

The subject came up again when Parks and Recreation Superintendent Erin E. Gardner wrote a memo last week asking council members for authorization to install an already purchased, permanent fence about halfway up the hill. It would “reduce the amount of time spent by staff to repair and replace the snow fence,” she wrote.

Councilman Jeffrey M. Smith, however, said a permanent fence would take away from the aesthetics of the historical park.

Councilman Joseph M. Butler Jr. agreed, suggesting “it would look a lot better” if larger trees were planted there or if a stone fence such as the ones that meander throughout the park were placed there instead.

In response, Councilwoman Roxanne M. Burns suggested the city look at the suggestions that Dry Hill Ski Area owner Timothy L. McAtee provided for the city.

She also recommended the city contact other communities to see how they try to prevent sledding injuries.

In the past, Mr. Smith has voiced concerns about sledders getting injured when slamming into ice-caked hay bales intended to prevent people from hitting the stone walls at the bottom of the hill.

The hay bales were removed earlier in the sledding season after a boy broke his legs when he smashed into one of them.

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