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Popular beach in Steep Falls closes

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Posted: Friday, August 24, 2007 1:00 am

Effective immediately, the beach on Route 11 in Steep Falls is officially closed to the public.

In reality, the beach, which borders the Saco River, has always been private, but the landowners never believed in keeping locals from enjoying such a scenic and beautiful spot.

Until now.

On Aug. 1, beach owners Linwood and Linda Pendexter sent a letter to the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office asking that deputies "police the 12 acres" and "prosecute any and all they found trespassing."

"I really didn't want to do this," said Linwood Pendexter. "But after seeing the destruction, we feel we have no choice but to close our land to the public."

The damage on the Pendexter property ranges from disgusting to severe and includes massive land damage from unauthorized ATVs as well as piles of trash, discarded condoms, underwear and broken bottles.

"It can really get gnarly down there at times," said Brett Levin whose property abuts the Pendexter property. "My family and I clean the property every Sunday and Wednesday. People would not believe the trash we find."

Some of the trash found by the Levins includes dirty diapers, used feminine hygiene products and most recently a popped air mattress surrounded by men's and women's clothing.

Levin's backyard borders the trail from the street to the river resulting in constant foot traffic and lately has caused them not to be able to enter the backyard without problems.

"People wander off the trail and into our yard where my wife and 3-year-old daughter have witnessed people doing drugs, having sex, and changing their clothes," said Levin. "I would say the least favorite part of bordering the trail is the public restroom 20 feet behind my house. People just walk into our yard and use it as a bathroom. It's just nasty."

The Levins have also experienced people shining flashlights into their windows at all hours of the night, and people walking right up to their back door with bottles of beer.

"I would like to be able to feel comfortable leaving my wife and daughter home alone at night," said Levin. "And, right now, I don't."

The problems of trash and overnight camping at the beach is not a new issue, according to a neighbor and longtime Steep Falls resident Jackie Dyer.

"When my kids were little we used to dread the summer coming," said Dyer, whose property borders the Pendexter land. "People would come to the beach from everywhere. At times it wasn't safe to go down there alone. I once went down with my kids and there was a man on the beach with a gun."

Dyer also recalls a time she went to the beach alone and a man came toward her threateningly.

"I just don't know what I would have done if I hadn't had mace and a truck down there," said Dyer, who was able to escape the dangerous situation.

Central Maine Power, who owns a small piece of land that connects the road to the Pendexter property, is well aware of the problems, but feels not much can be done about it.

"We rely on local police departments to police our land," said Paul Fecteau, who works in real estate services at Central Maine Power. "We realize Cumberland County (Sheriff's Department) is stretched thin and that this is not a high priority crime for them."

Central Maine Power has tried to rectify some of the problems at the river by erecting signs notifying people that ATVs, littering, overnight camping or open fires are prohibited, and also installing barricades to keep motorized vehicles out. So far, nothing has worked.

The Pendexters have also put up numerous "private property" and "no trespassing" signs, all of which have been ripped down.

"The signs and barricades have been torn down repeatedly," said Levin. "People have gone so far as to cut trees down with a chainsaw to make new paths for ATVs and snowmobiles. They just don't respect that the land is private property."

The Pendexter family, who now live in Texas, have always enjoyed the idea of local people being able to use their land, but feels things have just gotten out of control.

"I just can't believe people would do this to the land," Linwood Pendexter said. "I really didn't want to do this, but after seeing the destruction and trash we feel we have no choice but to close our land to the public. It's time to put an end to it. I really want to apologize to the local people who have been using it with their families for years, but I just feel we have no other choice."

Pendexter's wife Linda agreed.

"We really didn't want to close it," said Linda. "But what choice do we have?"

For now, anyone seen on the property by the Sheriff's office or local game wardens will be asked to leave. If they do not comply or are caught there again, charges will be filed.

"Our first priority is to educate the people that this land is private," said Standish Community Policing Officer Paul Pettengill. "If people continue to go there or do not leave when asked, they will either be summonsed to court or, depending on the situation, arrested for trespassing or destruction of property."

The Pendexter's daughter, Lisa, lives in the area and said her parents are willing to hear any ideas on what can be down to please everyone.

"My family is at a loss of what to do, but they are willing to listen to any possible solutions," said Lisa Pendexter. "My dad was never intending to close the property to foot traffic but after he saw what was happening to the land on a daily basis he just became fed up."

Pettengill advised the Pendexters and their neighbors that coming together as a community is the best way to solve the problem.

A notion that may change the Pendexters' minds.

"Maybe in a few years, if things change, we can rethink the closure," said Linda Pendexter. "But right now it's the best thing to do."

Welcome to the discussion.