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Campout Before the Campout

Queuing All Night in Greenwich Town Hall Parking Lot

There’s a time-honored tradition in Greenwich. It’s open to all residents, yet participation is not for the faint of heart. No, it’s not the polar bear plunge. It’s the all-night line that forms outside Town Hall every January for residents applying for summer camping and picnic permits in Greenwich parks.

The permits, which went on sale this morning at 8 o'clock, are processed through the department of Parks and Recreation. Though the official process is overseen, indoors, by Parks & Rec manager Craig Whitcomb, the parking lot queue is organized by volunteers.

Regulars know the drill: First-come first-served. Leave the parking lot, you lose your place. Tag teams are okay.

“We had some moms with little kids here last night. Then they traded off with husbands for the overnight shift,” said the line organizer, who was reluctant to give her name. At 7 a.m., as she set about neatly copying over the names on the poster duct taped to her SUV – some names written in ink had become smeared by the overnight snowfall – the keeper of the queue offered that she had been camping out on the town’s islands since 1981.

“This was a mellow crowd this year,” said the line organizer. “I almost got through my book. Tom Clancy’s Locked Up,” she exclaimed to a friend, and it was not a complaint. “It was nice not to have interruptions.”

Is There a Better System?
Indeed, the all-nighters were a hardy bunch. But as much as their fortitude is admirable, the situation begs the question: Might there be a better way? Perhaps a lottery that would eliminate the need to sit in a car all night in the town hall parking lot in one of the coldest months of the year. Yet, when the subject of change came up, the crowd of about a half dozen assembled around the line keeper’s car scoffed.

“It’s fun. It’s like the campout before the campout,” said Michelle Fletcher, whose seasonal job is at the Caffe Bon lunch wagon in the Town Hall parking lot.

“This is our third year,” said Michael Watson who arrived with his friend Adam Khan at 3 a.m. “Usually we arrive at midnight. This was late for us.”

“One year we got lawn chairs and slept on them in the parking lot,” said Khan. “It was warmer that year,” he added, looking down at the icy steps outside Town Hall.

Watson and Khan, who have been friends since kindergarten at North Mianus School, were hopeful for a permit to camp in Captain’s Island on Fourth of July. “It's totally worth waiting for,” said Watson. “We can see about seven different fireworks from the island including shows near Greenwich and across the Sound.”

Just before 7:30 a.m., a town hall employee unlocked the front door. Watson and Khan were the first through the doors, though not first on the list.

Permits are required for Greenwich Point clambake and cowbarn areas, Byram Park clambake area, Bruce Park Woods Road picnic area, and the Pinetum picnic area. Overnight camping areas requiring permits are Island Beach and Great Captain’s Island. 

Permit information is available on the town hall website or call town hall at (203) 622-7700. 

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