NARRAGANSETT - Narragansett Town Beach opened on June 6, two weeks later than in typical years, and attendance thus far is significantly down as the town implemented capacity and parking guidelines, along with other safety measures, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, some young people are not complying with the new rules, such as wearing face masks in heavily crowded areas, at the beach.
“Like we do every year, we have had complaints about young teens coming into the area,” said Narragansett Parks and Recreation Director Steve Wright. “The younger population is the challenge with the face coverings. They’ve been holed up for 8-10 weeks, and the majority of them are just out on the beach enjoying themselves. There’s a small minority we’re having some problems with.”
In May, the parks and recreation department presented a plan for a safe reopening of the town beach that included limiting all parking lot access to resident taxpayers only, beach capacity guidlines (100 square feet of beach space per person), mandating masks be worn in high foot traffic areas and signage and announcements reminding the public of the new measures. Additionally, according to Wright, specific staff are assigned on busy days to monitor the town beach’s heavily populated areas (pavillions, restrooms, concession stand) and politely remind those not wearing face coverings to do so. If someone does not comply, the police will be called, according to Wright.
“A lot of people are compliant,” said Wright. “Most people are. Again, it’s a small minority of the population that comes to the beach without a face mask, and this is what people complain about, so we ask people to put them on, to have them, or go back to their blanket and put them on.”
According to Wright, whose department has monitored the town beach parking lots every year during the summer season, none of the lots have filled to capacity on any day this year, though Wright said that could change come early July and Independence Day. Prior to the pandemic, beach parking was hard to come by, and the lots filled frequently, especially during the Fourth of July holiday. Now, a resident parking pass or beach cabana pass is required to access the lot.
Per the parks and recreation department, on Friday, June 12, there were 1,987 beach patrons, 3,205 on Saturday, June 13 and, 2,305 on Sunday, June 14. On Friday, June 19, 3,046 people attended the beach, 4,391 attended on Saturday, June 20 and 4,169 on Sunday, June 21. In a typical year, Narragansett Town Beach attracted between 8,000 and 9,000 beachgoers on an average weekday and between 11,000 and 12,000 on a busy weekend day.
Despite the lower attendance, over the past two weekends, many on social media have voiced frustrations with the crowds of younger people not adhering to established safety practices while on the beach.
“It’s an endless battle,” said Wright. “This is probably one of the biggest things that I and the staff deal with all day long. It’s something people are dealing with throughout the country. It’s not that we’re not trying, it’s just very difficult to enforce. And it’s mostly the young people. They have their whole lives ahead of them, they’re invincible, they’re not thinking about this.”
In addition to the above, Wright said staff tallies beach patrons as they enter to gain an accurate count of how many people are on the beach, and the beach is surveyed regularly by security staff who will ask the public to break up large crowds on the beach if they form. On Saturday, the town ceased selling wristband access to the beach for upwards of an hour as staff observed an influx of beachgoers.
“If we reach a point where, based on the number of people we see on the beach, if it looks like it’s getting crowded, then staff will top the wristband sales,” said Wright. “It’s an ebb and flow on the beach. Even though people are coming, people are exiting.”
The complaints come as Governor Gina Raimondo this week outlined new policy for state beaches after many complaints of noncompliance with social distancing and mask-wearing regulations at state beaches over the weekend. Wright said the town beach could not be compared to state beaches and said some of the complaints on social media, specifically the ones about parking, were “simply not true.”