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Summer beach season expected to be busy

With many COVID-19 restrictions being lifted at beaches in the region, a busy summer season is expected.

Local beach operators and officials are gearing up to welcome more visitors this summer and reopen some amenities, from amusement rides to concession stands. While many beaches are easing residency restrictions and stricter capacity limits put in place last summer, some restrictions remain in place and vary by beach.

Pre-season pass sales at Ocean Beach Park in New London have been brisk. "People are anxious," park manager Dave Sugrue said.

City of Groton Mayor Keith Hedrick said he's looking forward to a return to normal at Eastern Point Beach.

"I think if we have a nice beach season, people are going to try to make up for the time that they lost last year, and I think a lot of people will be coming out," he said.

Staffing challenges

The COVID-19 pandemic has created some challenges for staffing the beaches.

The City of Groton is searching for lifeguards, which is a challenge as the pandemic made it difficult for people to get certified and maintain their certification, Hedrick said. The city has reached out to other municipalities and swim teams and clubs and is trying to work around the challenge. If it comes to a time when there is no lifeguard, the city will have to put up swim-at-your-own-risk signs.

Norwich Recreation Director Cheryl Hancin Preston said Spaulding Pond Beach is fully staffed for the summer, after some initial challenges. "It took a little longer than usual, due to the staffing shortages, but we are ready to go now. Staff will arrive for in-house training the week of June 14."

Beth-Ann Stewart, executive director of the Stonington Community Center Inc., said duBois Beach, which is staffed by lifeguards and a gatekeeper when open, fortunately has mainly returning staff so there were not any hiring challenges.

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management is continuing to recruit lifeguards, attendants and park rangers for the summer.

"We hope that as high school students finish up their school year towards the end of June, we may see an increase in applications," spokesperson Gail Mastrati said. "Reduced swimming areas may need to be implemented in the event we are unable to hire a full complement of lifeguards."

State parks

After reducing capacity at some parks and closing most buildings last summer, the state is returning to full services at its parks and beaches, including Rocky Neck State Park in East Lyme, Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection spokesman Will Healey said.

State Department of Public Health guidance says vaccinated people are not required to wear masks outdoors but recommends unvaccinated people wear masks outdoors when in large crowds or where they are unable to socially distance, he said. All visitors, regardless of vaccination status, need to wear masks indoors. DEEP employees will wear masks indoors and when unable to socially distance outdoors.

People should maintain social distance both when they are in the water and on the sand and stay home if they are not feeling well, according to the health and safety guidance document for state parks and boat launches. People should wash their hands, use hand sanitizer, and sneeze or cough into a tissue or their elbow.

As usual, parks will continue to close to new visitors if they reach their parking capacity, with information posted on portal.ct.gov/whatsopenoutdoors and on the @CTStateParks Twitter feed.

East Lyme

McCook Point Park & Beach, Hole-in-the-Wall Beach and Niantic Bay Beach at Cini Park opened Memorial Day weekend with gate attendants, town Parks and Recreation Director Dave Putnam said. Lifeguards will start on June 17.

Season passes and day passes are once again available to nonresidents for purchase. The town had restricted season passes to residents last year.

Putnam said the town is requiring masks for those who have not been vaccinated, based on the “honor system.”

Groton

Eastern Point Beach in the City of Groton will be fully open this year, after reduced capacity and restrictions for residents only on weekends last summer. The concession stand will reopen with a new traffic pattern to reduce chokepoints, Hedrick said. The beach officially opens for the season on June 19; people can access the beach now, but it is not staffed with lifeguards.

Masks are not required for people who are fully vaccinated, but unvaccinated people will need to wear a mask when they go to the bathroom or when they walk from their car to the beach. People are asked to maintain 6 feet of distance, if they can, he said.

Esker Point Beach in Groton will have no restrictions. The picnic area will be open with no capacity limits, and beach volleyball will resume at full capacity, Groton Parks and Recreation Director Mark Berry said. The beach is free and open from sunrise to sunset but is not staffed.

Berry said he anticipates capacity will rise to pre-pandemic levels, with the most people expected on Thursday nights for concerts and volleyball. A full lineup of Soundwaves Summer Concerts will start on June 17, with a $10 fee for parking on-site during the concerts or free bus transportation.

New London

Ocean Beach Park officially opened for the season on Memorial Day weekend. While the weather was nothing to celebrate, Sugrue said, the lifting of pandemic restrictions is. The park is fully open for the summer.

Park activities were severely limited over the past year. The pool, cafe, spray park, water slide, mini golf course, arcade and amusement rides were shut down and entertainment and banquet bookings were canceled. Last year, the beach and boardwalk were open, with restrooms and a few concession stands.

Rates for residents were drastically reduced due to action by the City Council last year. A seasonal parking pass for residents costs $42.54 compared to $127.62 for nonresidents.

Sugrue said the park has a full slate of entertainment scheduled and is planning a “burn your mask bonfire at the beach” event.

Greens Harbor Beach, at Pequot Avenue and Converse Place in New London, is free to the public and open without any pandemic restrictions. The beach currently has lifeguards on duty on weekends from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Lifeguards will be on duty on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. starting June 24.

Norwich

In Norwich, Spaulding Pond Beach in Mohegan Park will be open from June 24 through the third week in August, with hours from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission and parking are free.

Beachgoers are asked to remain at least 6 feet apart and wear face masks when social distancing is not possible, city Recreation Director Preston said.

Swim lessons for youths are back this year. For information and to register, contact the Norwich Recreation Department at (860) 823-3791.

Old Lyme

Sound View Beach, White Sand Beach and the beach at Hains Park are open.

At Sound View Beach, First Selectman Tim Griswold said, there is a 600-person capacity in place spanning the town beach and Miami Beach, which is open to the public.

Griswold said the capacity limits are the same as last summer. Griswold and Resident State Trooper Matt Weber made the decision in consultation with the Miami Beach Association, according to the first selectman.

Griswold said Old Lyme police and beach rangers monitor crowd size from Hartford Avenue, while Miami Beach security guards cover the western end of the beach primarily used by members of the beach association.

“We realize it will not be a science in terms of knowing exactly how many people are there. But the idea is to keep it at a respectable, recommended level so it’s not going to be jam packed,” he said.

Capacity at White Sand Beach and Hains Park is not limited on a per-capita basis.

Stonington

DuBois beach in Stonington, currently open for the weekends, will open full time on June 21. People are not required to wear masks outdoors but are encouraged to do so when it’s not possible to socially distance, Stonington Community Center Executive Director Stewart said.

“With the COVID restrictions lifted, we expect a busy season but do not anticipate closures due to maximum capacity being reached,” she said.

The floating dock will return to the water this year, but the water fountain will remain turned off, she said. A port-o-potty will be available.

Information on passes is available at thecomo.org/dubois-beach.

Information on passes for Sandy Point Island is available at bit.ly/ripermits.

Waterford

Waterford Beach Park is open on the weekends, and will officially reopen full time on June 19, with lifeguards on duty, said Kerry Sullivan, program coordinator for the town's Recreation and Parks Department. More information on the beach and payment is available at waterfordct.org or on the Waterford Recreation and Parks Facebook page, bit.ly/wrpfacebook.

People who are fully vaccinated do not need to wear a mask, she said. It is recommended that children under 12 wear a mask to and from the beach, but can take off their mask once on the beach.

Misquamicut State Beach in Westerly

Rhode Island beaches opened daily on May 29, including Misquamicut State Beach. Restrooms and showers and the playground are open, and people can sit at the pavilions, DEM spokesperson Mastrati said.

The state won't be requiring people to wear masks outdoors, but people who are unvaccinated "are strongly encouraged to wear a mask" in crowded areas outdoors or when in close contact with people, she said. People who are not fully vaccinated will be required to wear masks indoors, with some exceptions.

Information on parking passes is available at riparks.com/beach-passes.php.

Mastrati said DEM proposed daily parking fee increases at Misquamicut State Beach, but not other Rhode Island beaches, that would go into effect July 1, if approved: raising the daily rate for nonresidents from $12 to $20 on weekdays and from $14 to $30 on weekends and holidays, and raising the daily rate for Rhode Island residents from $6 to $10 on weekdays and from $7 to $15 on weekends and holidays.

Day Staff Writers Claire Bessette, Elizabeth Regan and Greg Smith contributed to this report.

k.drelich@theday.com

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