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East Lyme mandates one-way walking pattern on Niantic Bay Boardwalk

East Lyme — In an effort to keep the Niantic Bay Boardwalk open while protecting residents from the spread of COVID-19, First Selectman Mark Nickerson announced Monday that there is now a one-way walking pattern on the Niantic Boardwalk.

Residents had raised concerns about park visitors walking too close to one another as they passed each other on the boardwalk, which Parks and Recreation Director Dave Putnam estimated to be about 8 feet wide. 

The new signs placed at the beginning of the boardwalk instruct users that they must now move in an easterly direction toward Cini Memorial Park, or toward Waterford.

Once reaching the end of the boardwalk, they can return to the Hole-In-The-Wall parking lot by walking under the Niantic River Bridge and west along sidewalks down Main Street. Those who use the boardwalk are asked to not turn around and to complete the entire loop, which is approximately 2.25 miles. The boardwalk itself is just over a mile long.

Those who cannot commit to walking the full loop are still being encouraged to stroll in McCook Point Park, which is also accessible by the Hole-In-The-Wall Beach entrance, Nickerson said on a video posted to the town website, or walk at other locations such as the high school track and other town parks.

“If we can get everyone to cooperate on this new rule then we can keep the boardwalk open,” Nickerson said Monday while standing at the boardwalk’s Hole-In-The-Wall entrance. “It’s so narrow and it is impossible for people to pass each other and stay six feet apart. So we are hoping that this is the solution to keep our beloved recreational shoreline trail open.”

Nickerson said that should the boardwalk close, it would close indefinitely and would be difficult, near impossible even, to reopen it again until the virus has fully passed. He said that may not be for months and could extend well into summer.

“This is our last-ditch effort before we have to close the boardwalk and we don’t want to do that,” he  said.

Putnam said Monday, “I think this is the right thing to do, though it was the hard thing. It would be even more heartbreaking to close the boardwalk, though.”

Nickerson said Monday the town is now mandating the one-way pattern because visitors had failed to follow recommendations to do so last week.

While many people coming for their daily stroll Monday had heard about the change, others had not and were still walking in a westerly direction.

Nickerson said it might take a couple of days for the new rules to sink in and that the town might need to start enacting stronger enforcement by the weekend. He also hoped residents would take it upon themselves to enforce the new rules among one another, especially as the weather warms up in coming weeks and more people flock to the shoreline. On a nice day, East Lyme’s beach areas can see thousands of people, Nickerson said.

Other towns, in an effort to protect residents in recent weeks, have also taken measures to prevent people from gathering, with many, including East Lyme, closing playgrounds and basketball courts. Waterford closed all its town recreation areas March 30, including town parks and beaches, basketball courts, school grounds and athletic facilities, dog park, tennis courts and playgrounds.

New London parks are also closed to the public, while the Town of Groton announced it planned to close its skate park, Central Bark dog park, all basketball and tennis courts, as well as the Esker Point Beach volleyball courts, effective Tuesday.

While many residents praised Nickerson’s efforts on Facebook, Old Lyme resident Jay Montmeat, 70, who comes to work out on the Hole-In-The-Wall beach nearly every day called the new rule an “overreaction” on Monday.

“I feel safer here than anywhere,” Montmeat said. “The risks are much greater in confined spaces and stores. … It’s well-meaning but misguided.”

Other residents unable to do the full loop had to change their walking plans at the last minute, as was the case for Rita Mingo, 86, and her brother Stephen Lawrence, 87, who walked through McCook Point Park Monday instead of going on their usual stroll halfway down the boardwalk and back.

While Mingo said she understood the new rule and was not angry because “it’s for our protection,” she was sad to hear she won’t be able to take her favorite stroll on the boardwalk for the foreseeable future.

“I come down for the view and the fresh air and the nice walk almost every day, weather permitting. It’s very healthy” she said. “It clears my mind and it gives you that peaceful, tranquil feeling to get away from everything and the hustle and bustle.”

m.biekert@theday.com

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