SOUTH KINGSTOWN — After Gov. Gina Raimondo announced plans to steeply reduce parking capacities at Scarborough and Misquamicut State Beaches last week, South Kingstown took strides to prevent overcrowding along its coastline.
The following day, Town Manager Robert Zarnetske announced a sixfold parking fine increase for those who illegally park along Succotash Road in East Matunuck. Rather than receiving a $25 ticket, recent traffic and crowd control problems at East Matunuck State Beach, along with reduced capacity numbers at two of the state’s other most popular beaches, Zarnetske decided to raise the fine to $150.
The parking lot at East Matunuck was filled to capacity in less than an hour on Saturday morning, according to the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM). Other state beaches also quickly filled to capacity this past weekend, which saw temperatures reaching into the high 80s and high percentages of humidity.
Zarnetske said the sharp increase in fines did not entirely prevent illegal parking on Succotash Road, but it helped keep “the road clear and helped keep the situation manageable.”
According to the police records, four $150 parking tickets were handed out.
Before Rhode Islanders and tourists headed to the beach to help beat the heat this weekend, RIDEM warned that they’d be helping to enforce parking fines put in place by Narragansett, South Kingstown, Charlestown, and Westerly, as well as the governor’s efforts to reduce parking capacity.
“As we’ve seen on recent weekends, crowds at the beaches have been too large and tightly packed, especially at high tide,” DEM Division of Law Enforcement Chief Dean Hoxsie said last Friday. “At the same time, we recognize that fighting COVID by limiting parking strains the resources of the local beach communities that are our partners.”
RIDEM encouraged beachgoers to comply with mask wearing and social distancing guidelines through its social media platforms, like Twitter, and informed visitors of how to check parking capacity numbers before making a hot drive to the beach.
On Sunday evening, RIDEM Tweeted that “across all state beaches this weekend, DEM saw smaller crowds, better physical distancing on the sand [and] more people wearing masks.”
South Kingstown Town Beach also made some adjustments this past weekend, according to Director of Leisure Services Terry Murphy.
“We reduced the head count and we reduced the parking, and it worked well,” she said. “People were appreciative. We did get feedback from the community and we were very honest — we said we’re rolling with this and making adjustments as we go.”
Recreation Commission Chair David Palazzetti said he’d been concerned about possible overcrowding on the town beach, especially since many people had nowhere to go during the hot, humid weekend.
“I give kudos to the staff, because they’ve been pretty phenomenal,” Murphy said.
This year, in an effort to help ensure social distancing and slow the spread of COVID-19, the recreation commission had voted in favor of limiting season passes to residents only. Although the commission later voted to remove the cap placed against the number of resident season passes, Murphy reported that beach pass sales performed exceptionally well and helped the parks and recreation department make up for other losses this year.
Last Wednesday, Raimondo announced that parking at Scarborough and Misquamicut State Beaches would be reduced to 25 percent, due to struggles of keeping crowds under control.
“The reality is we’re seeing really big crowds at the beach, even compared with last year,” she said.
According to data from the state, state beaches in Rhode Island saw 50,000 more cars parked in lots than at the same time in June of last year, prior to the pandemic.