DORSET — A free swim at the quarry might soon cost a bit more than nothing.
After recently building a parking area, hiring an attendant to watch the property, leasing port-a-potties and working with the Sheriff's Department to station a deputy there on weekends, Dorset Quarry owners Richard and Kirsten McDonough say they'll soon start charging $10 per car to help recover some of their expenses.
Having invested more than $17,000 in making improvements to enhance the experience of quarry visitors, the McDonoughs are hoping to recoup some of their resources.
"We're going to start charging $10 to park there to defray some of my expenses," Richard McDonough said. "Everybody's been going there for quite some time, and the traffic has been quite significant."
For nearly a century, the former marble quarry has been a popular swimming hole. But in recent years, between social media and reports in national publications like USA Today and the New York Times, popularity of the quarry has grown quickly.
Every summer has seen bigger crowds, more parking issues and problems with alcohol consumption.
With so many cars parking on Route 30, and so many people crowing the trails, it has the potential to be hazardous. McDonough said he hired an attendant to keep an eye on parking and crowds.
At the request of Dorset town officials, the Bennington County Sheriff's Department posted a deputy there to help with those issues on weekends.
"With the advent of social media, it was getting to the point where, even with more parking spaces, there were significant issues with parking along the roadway," said Rob Gaiotti, town manager of Dorset. "And the sheer volume of people has caused some real stress for the neighbors. When the numbers get overwhelming, it demands a response."
He said that on weekends, 500 or more people come and go in a single day, some of them causing problems with trash, noise, traffic, nudity and alcohol.
Last month, the Dorset Select Board decided it was getting out of hand, and agreed to request aid from the Sheriff, Gaiotti said.
"Since the Sheriff's Department has been there it's been a big help and had a positive effect," he noted. "And the owners have been willing to do some things to lessen the burden on the neighbors."
McDonough said that between his employee and the sheriff's deputy, the crowds are thinning out and parking has been less of an issue.
"It's worked out really well," he said.
"I already had somebody there overseeing parking and checking for alcohol, and between the two of them, well, there's been much less illegal parking."
Gaiotti noted that the town has formed a steering committee to look at the Dorset Quarry, its issues and any possible solutions, including purchasing the swimming hole and treating it as a town park.
"There has been discussion of a number of options," he said.
"The Friends of the Dorset Quarry are helping to steward a process by which the town will look for long-term stability for the area."
Gaiotti noted that process will likely take a couple of years.
Last Saturday afternoon, there were well over 200 people there, under the watchful eyes of a deputy and the attendant.
Many of the visitors were from out of town.
One woman, who was visiting with family from Southern California, marvelled at the beauty of the quarry and its waters.
"There's nothing like this in San Diego," she said.