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February 27, 2013

Sledding safety fix eludes officials

METHUEN — City officials say there’s little they can do to prevent sledders from using Greycourt Park, a state park with a steep hill behind City Hall where two young women were seriously injured in late December.

Methuen Public Works Director Raymond DiFiore told the City Council last week that any sign, fence or barrier permanently installed by the city on the hill to dissuade or restrict sledders could leave Methuen taxpayers liable if an accident were to occur.

After the two women were injured in separate sledding accidents Dec. 30 and 31, DiFiore said he sought guidance from a state Department of Conservation and Recreation employee about how to get a permanent “No Sledding” sign approved at the park.

“I have not heard from him since then,” DiFiore told councilors. That news didn’t sit well with City Councilor Michael Condon.

“Do we wait for a kid to get killed on the hill?” said Condon. “It’s too bad that sometimes you have to wait until somebody gets really seriously hurt or killed before people act on it. It’s just really sad, the red tape that you have to go through.”

But according to DCR Spokeswoman S.J. Port, the state has not received an official request from the city for a permanent sign.

“There hasn’t been an ask for permanent signage, period,” Port said yesterday. “We’re certainly open to having those conversations. We need someone to make the ask.”

Greycourt Park is a state park but is maintained by the city. Its steep slope makes it a destination for area sledders.

Seriously injured in the accidents were Elizabeth Patino, 22, of California, and Heather Cunningham, 22, of Georgia. Both women were visiting family in the area and collided with trees while sledding during separate incidents.

Both Patino and Cunningham have since been released from the hospital.

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