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A day at the beach will be different this summer

Ocean Beach Park has a message for its fans, especially those planning to travel a long distance for the Memorial Day weekend: Please don't.

For longtime beach manager Dave Sugrue, the message is heartbreaking but necessary. "We're not used to trying to keep people away. Things are backwards," he said.

Even though many of the region's shoreline beaches are open, operators are worried about crowds too large to accommodate, as families seek a reprieve from isolation and home confinement that has become the norm during the COVID-19 pandemic. Rain is in Saturday's forecast, so the first test might come Sunday.

Rules will vary depending on where you are but most will limit capacity and encourage social distancing rules that many already have become accustomed to.

Ocean Beach Park, for example, begins welcoming paying customers starting Saturday but most concessions are closed and the pool remains off limits along with the picnic areas, amusement rides, banquet hall and playgrounds. Lifeguards will be on duty on the beach.

The city-owned beach has a capacity of about 900 vehicles with an overflow lot adding another 600. Both usually fill up by the time the warm weather moves in, and vehicles start to back up into surrounding neighborhoods. That's not going to happen this year, Sugrue said.

The park has no immediate plans to open the overflow lot and will be monitoring not just the parking lot but the crowds on the beach and boardwalk. If things look like they're getting to a point where social distancing is becoming more difficult, Sugrue said the gates will be closed and anyone attempting to walk in will be turned away.

New London Mayor Michael Passero said he wants no parking on side streets and plans to deploy electronic signs at key entry points into the city to inform visitors when the beach is closed, along with stepped up police enforcement. He said he's working with the state Department of Transportation to get announcements of closures onto highway signs.

Sugrue said the park plans to follow state guidelines: ask visitors to maintain a 6-foot distance from others, keep blankets 15 feet apart, avoid groups of more than five people and wear face coverings when in close proximity to others.

The park has been open without charging for admission and Sugrue said social distancing hasn't yet been a problem, but concerns will rise as more people start showing up.

The overall plan is to operate with a smaller footprint this year and monitor the crowds for safety of both visitors and staff. Sugrue said the more attractions open, the more people are likely to visit and put additional pressure on staff, which plans to maintain rigorous sanitizing protocols.

"We're going to get really good at this really fast," Sugrue said.

Check the park's website, ocean-beach-park.com, for a price list.

State parks

Connecticut's shoreline state park beaches, such as Rocky Neck State Park in East Lyme, were never closed and will remain open with capacity restrictions. Residents should recreate with members of their immediate household and not meet up with others.

The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection will reduce parking capacity and close beaches for the day if social distancing cannot be maintained. Updates on closures are posted on the Connecticut State Parks' Twitter account, @CTStateParks.

DEEP is permitting swimming only at shoreline state parks and not inland swim areas. While the state Department of Public Health indicates that swimming is not a known form of transmission of COVID-19 in saltwater or freshwater, DEEP is making decisions about permitting swimming based on considerations of potential crowding and the ability to maintain social distancing onshore at beach locations.

Face coverings should not be worn in the water. Visitors should not expect that restroom buildings will be open, but most locations will have portable toilets available.

Lifeguards will not be on duty at shoreline beaches in state parks early in the season. These beaches are currently posted as "No Lifeguards on Duty." Shoreline beaches are expected to begin staffing lifeguards when adequate staffing, training and safety practices meeting DEEP standards are in place.

Here is sampling of some other open area beaches:

East Lyme

McCook’s Point Park & Beach, Hole-in-the-Wall Beach and Niantic Bay Beach at Cini Park will be open only to residents who have a season pass, or to residents walking in who show proof of residence. Both beaches passes and IDs will be checked by attendants sitting at beach entrances.

Season passes are only available for only residents to purchase, while beach day passes will be sold to neither residents nor nonresidents for the time being. Residents driving into the town’s beach areas may purchase a pass on-site.

The new rules, recently set by the town’s Parks & Recreation Commission, will not apply to those wanting to use the Niantic Bay Boardwalk, which still will be open to nonresidents. Nonresidents, however, will not be able to park in beach parking lot areas to access the boardwalk and will need to park on Main Street or one of the parking lots off Main Street.

Parking caps will be enforced, while the amount of people allowed on the beach also will be limited. Parks & Recreation staff and police will be on duty over the weekend, limiting crowds.

Beach bathrooms will be open only on weekends for now but will open daily as the summer season progresses.

Groton

Eastern Point Beach will officially open for the season June 20, as planned, but restrictions will be in place and the city will be setting a maximum capacity, City of Groton Mayor Keith Hedrick said.

"This is a fluid situation," he said in an announcement this week. "Understand that the beach may be open for part of the season. Beach times and rules may change based on the fluctuating and unknown conditions at the national, state and local levels."

To keep the beach as safe as possible, the city is reducing the number of people on the beach and enforcing social distancing. Beachgoers will be required to wear a mask as they walk from their vehicles to their spot on the beach, in the bathrooms and when walking around if they cannot social distance from other people, according to the guidelines. The concessions stand will not open and picnic tables and grills will not be available.

The city will sell only season passes this year, and not day passes, Hedrick said. Season passes will be available to everyone, but only city residents will be allowed on the beach on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. Walk-ins also will be limited to city residents with ID.

Groton City said it will be hiring additional staff to enforce social distancing at Eastern Point Beach and will ask people who don't obey the rules to leave. People who repeatedly break the rules will have their beach passes revoked.

Esker Point Beach in Groton is open, and the town will be blocking off half of the parking spots to help control the numbers, Groton Town Manager John Burt said.

"We will have police and parks and rec staff there this weekend to ensure safety protocols are followed," he added. "We are in the process of hiring summer staff, some of which will help monitor all our parks for safety compliance."

New London

Greens Harbor Beach will be monitored by the city's Parks and Recreation Department for crowd density. There will be one entrance and one exit. The size of the swimming area has been reduced to limit the possibility of lifeguards engaging in a water rescue.

Norwich

Spaulding Pond in Mohegan Park will be open with social distancing rules that include a 15-foot blanket separation. Lifeguards will be on duty.

Old Lyme

Sound View Beach, White Sand Beach and a beach at Hains Park will be open to both residents and nonresidents on a first-come, first-served basis as the town plans to limit the number of visitors. Once the set capacity for a beach is reached, beach rangers will not allow more people in until others leave. Capacity for each beach was calculated to allow each person about 110 square feet of space, First Selectman Tim Griswold has said.

Town beach parking lots will be capped at 50%. Police and beach rangers will be on duty over the weekend, monitoring how many people are on the beach and enforcing social distancing rules.

Stonington

DuBois Beach, the small beach at Stonington Point, will open to the public on Saturday with a host of social distancing restrictions.

The beach will be open only on weekends until June 22, when weekday operation will begin through Labor Day. The beach is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. A season pass or day pass is required to access the beach and the Stonington Community Center is asking people to buy passes online to minimize contact with the beach gatekeeper.

Lifeguards will monitor social distancing and have the right to ask those not following guidelines to leave the beach.

Once the beach is at capacity, lifeguards will deny access to visitors until other people leave the beach.

Sandy Point will enforce similar requirements. Season and day passes for the island also are available for purchase on the COMO website, www.thecomo.org, which has a full list of requirements.

Waterford

Waterford Beach Park is open with proof of residency daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The park will be closed once capacity of 130 cars is reached. Social distancing measures will be in place. No lifeguards will be on duty and no swimming allowed until June 20. Information on obtaining required beach stickers can be found at www.waterfordct.org.

Rhode Island

Misquamicut State Beach in Westerly is not one of the state beaches that Gov. Gina Raimondo has opened for the holiday weekend.

Day Staff Writers Mary Biekert, Sten Spinella, Kimberly Drelich, Claire Bessette and Joe Wojtas contributed to this report.

g.smith@theday.com

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