The owner of a new housing development, top, has fenced off access to a beach on Sabbathday Lake in New Gloucester where many locals have been coming to swim for generations. The Grange hall can be seen at the lower right part of the photo. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

NEW GLOUCESTER — For generations, some town residents have cooled off at a small, private beach at the south end of Sabbathday Lake.

Not anymore.

A developer who bought the property two years ago is creating a seven-lot subdivision on the opposite side of Sabbathday Road, and this spring he erected fences blocking access to the beach and posted “No Trespassing” signs.

Ayanna Duprey, 12, of New Gloucester stood sadly beside an 8-foot, black chain-link fence Thursday, looking longingly at the water in the blistering heat.

“I’ve been coming to this place forever,” she said. “It’s depressing.”

Her grandfather, Eric Purcell, said he’s been a regular at the spot since 1975.

He was demoralized when he saw the fences go up – a decorative white plastic one between the beach and the road and a chain-link one farther on that blocks direct access to the lake.

“I was heartbroken, really,” Purcell said, because the site has long attracted a steady stream of residents who have no other way to access the lake without paying.

The privately owned Outlet Beach on the other side of the 342-acre lake allows ready access, but for a fee. And most of the lots surrounding the lake are private camps that don’t provide a way for the public to reach the water.

“They’ve shut everybody out of the lake,” Purcell said.

Town residents appear to be divided about the loss of the beach, with some upset at its closure and others happy that they won’t have to tolerate the visitors who partied and left trash there.

Ayanna Duprey looks out at Sabbathday Lake in New Gloucester on Thursday across from the town Grange, where one of her favorite places to swim has been fenced off. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

The only people on the beach one hot day this week were two kayakers from Mechanic Falls who had paddled over from the far side of the lake. Worried about giving their names once they spotted the new signs barring trespassers, they said the beach has typically had a few swimmers and sunbathers on warm summer days.

Unfortunately, neighbors said the beach also attracted partying youngsters at night and people who tossed used diapers, bottles, cans and other garbage in the adjoining woods or on the sand.

Though the beach has been generally open for nearly a century – one nonagenarian who didn’t want to give his name said people used it when he was a youngster before World War II – it has never been public property.

“People never really had beach access,” New Gloucester code enforcement officer Debra Parks Larrivee said Friday.

Larrivee said she’s kept a close eye on the subdivision’s developer, Allen Hamilton of Gray, and is sure he’s doing everything by the book. She’s visited the site weekly, she said, and watched as his project has progressed.

Larrivee said she has seen Hamilton, who declined to comment for this story, pick up many trash bags full of debris from the property along the shore. She even saw diapers floating in the water, she said.

Given that some of the users were “not the most upstanding people,” Larrivee said, closing off the beach has been advantageous to the town – and certainly for the people who live close by.

“Yeah, there’s some bad apples,” Purcell said while noting that most of the people who frequented the small beach picked up after themselves and behaved well.

Plans for Hamilton’s Sabbathday Shores development call for gated access to the beach for buyers of the lots, where houses are under construction. A small dock is shown on a marketing sign as well.

Purcell said that over the years, the now blocked-off beach has been “more or less considered the poor beach” in town, a place for “shackies” to take a dip or put a boat in the water.

He said he can afford to go elsewhere, but doesn’t want to. The old beach is his go-to spot.

Just down the road is an old yellow traffic sign warning drivers of the approaching “Beach Area” and setting a 35 mph speed limit.

The beach may have been widely used, but it was also posted against trespassing at some point in the past.

On a tree between the beach and the road, in an area the developer cleaned up this spring, there is an old wooden sign tacked to a tree. It reads, in fading paint: “Private Property/No Trespassing/Police Take Notice.”

For Purcell, the loss of the beach is a blow.

However, he’s more concerned about the lack of public access to the lake itself. He pointed out that the area beyond the new chain-link fence contains only a thin sliver of private property between the road right of way and the water.

He said it’s absurd that people can’t even put a little boat in the water there so they can use the lake to fish for trout and bass.

Looking through the fence at the rippling water on a sunny afternoon – as a great blue heron circled overhead – it’s easy to see why the spot has attracted residents for so long.

“It’s a great place,” Purcell said.

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