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Staff file photo / The falls over the dam at Rainbow Lake, are located in a 342-acre public park space owned by the town of Signal Mountain. Town councilors are considering charging visitors fees for parking or hiking the property.

The Signal Mountain Town Council is discussing options to ease issues with parking and overcrowding at Rainbow Lake trail, which was the topic of a survey recently conducted by the town.

After Signal Mountain's Rainbow Lake trail was "inundated with visitors" in the first month of the pandemic, according to Signal Mountain Police Chief Mike Williams, the town council temporarily closed the trail to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Officials also banned on-street parking in response to complaints from nearby residents that hikers were parking on residential streets and urinating in yards.

The survey was intended to gather opinions and ideas from the public before kicking off a series of meetings on the topic, Town Manager Boyd Veal said.

Mayor Charles Poss said he liked some of the survey respondents' ideas, such as charging nonresidents a fee to use the trail or requiring visitors to make reservations and pay a fee online before using the trail. But enforcing those requirements would be difficult, he said.

"You gotta have somebody who can actually police it," Poss said. "It seems like maybe we'd have to have some sort of part-time position in the summer or during busy times for somebody to be over there to make sure those who paid their fee are using it."

Councilman Andrew Gardner pointed out that the trail has several access points aside from the main trailhead, so people could get away with not paying even if the town paid someone to check whether visitors' fees were paid.

If the town asks visitors to pay to park in the lot at the trailhead, people are likely to find a free spot on the street, Poss said, adding that he also does not like the idea of putting "no parking" signs along area streets.

(READ MORE: Trail Review: Signal Point to Rainbow Lake Dam)

Of the 357 survey respondents, 60% said they would find available on-street parking rather than paying to park in the lot.

"It's not an easy solution, but I haven't noticed a real big problem either over the summer," Poss said. "I live in the area, and I don't see tons of cars going down the road parked on the side."

Vice Mayor Susannah Murdock said her main concern is overuse of the trail causing erosion and other issues.

"We've got to find some way to generate revenue so that we can potentially pay to have a park ranger or some kind of presence there during peak use times, but also to maybe put some money towards repair and maintenance," she said.

Council members decided to postpone scheduling meetings on the topic until the council is less busy with time-consuming tasks such as the hiring of a new town manager. Veal is retiring Dec. 3.

Contact Emily Crisman at 423-757-6508 or ecrisman@timesfreepress.com.

(READ MORE: A guide to the Chattanooga area's 9 coolest swimming holes)

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