Rocky Neck State Park a haven from the heat

People pack Rocky Neck State Park in East Lyme on Saturday. Beaches are drawing big crowds all weekend because of the heat wave.
People pack Rocky Neck State Park in East Lyme on Saturday. Beaches are drawing big crowds all weekend because of the heat wave. Tim Cook/The Day Buy Photo

East Lyme - Thousands of beachgoers seeking relief from temperatures in the high 80s streamed into Rocky Neck State Park Saturday to take a dip in Long Island Sound, soak up some sun or try their hand at crabbing.

Tasha Lane, a job coach for the state who works concessions at the park, said an estimated 15,000 to 16,000 people made the trip to the Niantic park during the July 4 holiday, and she said it appeared as if the numbers were similar Saturday.

If weather predictions for the next few days hold out, the parade of vacationers from as far away as Manhattan and Springfield, Mass., could easily continue unabated.

"The majority of next week will be warm and muggy," said Brian Edwards, a meteorologist for "I don't see a break in humidity through most of next week."

Edwards, who noted the high temperature Saturday at Groton-New London Airport was 88 degrees, said today's temperatures and humidity will be likely be very similar.

And the humidity will continue through the end of the week, he said, though temperatures may decline into the lower 80s.

And little relief is in the offing, since a few scattered showers Monday afternoon and evening will likely hit inland areas, he said, and Wednesday's rain also will be short-lived and not widespread.

Even the evenings are offering little respite, with Saturday's overnight low predicted to hit 70 and other late-night temperatures this week never falling below the upper 60s, he said.

And respite is what beachgoers at Rocky Neck were seeking as they lugged lawn chairs, umbrellas and heavy coolers in expectation of a long stay and at least a couple dips in the refreshing water. Some came with large tents and cooked up burgers and hot dogs on grills in what appeared to be an all-day family affair.

"I didn't know people brought so much stuff," commented Lane.

Jennifer and John Atwater of Easthampton, Mass., were lugging the typical chairs, cooler and umbrellas as they made the trek back to their car after about six hours at the beach. The couple said they had stumbled upon Rocky Neck after a visit to Mystic and were making a return visit because they enjoyed it so much.

"They do a great job with the park and the concessions," Jennifer said.

On the main part of the beach, tanned bodies lay side by side on blankets, while kids played in the surf or built sandcastles. A few vacationers who brought balls and boogie boards to the beach had to be reminded via a shrill whistle and lifeguard's megaphone that they are not allowed.

A lifeguard at the beach said there had been no serious incidents as of the middle of the afternoon, though one person had to be taken to the hospital after a seizure.

Up the beach, on a rocky jetty, Josh Whaley of Rockville dangled a chicken leg from a string into the water, oblivious to the heat as he concentrated on his prey.

"I use chicken all the time," Josh's friend William Gonzalez of South Windham said. "Last year with my uncle, we caught a spider crab. It was bigger than he was, and he's 6 feet."

Tall stories of crab fishermen get taller in the heat, and Mariesha Gonzalez, William's sister, couldn't help embellishing the obstacles the three friends had to overcome just to reach their destination.

"Sometimes people think this is an obstacle course," she said, gesturing to the uneven rock jetty. "Some people think it's a death place. Last year, my cousin slipped and cut her hand."

But for Josh Whaley, Rocky Neck Park on this steamy Saturday would become the place where personal history was made. After several false alarms, he lifted up his makeshift fishing pole and dropped a live one into his pail.

"I got a crab - yeah!" he yelled. "It's the first crab I ever caught."

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