CHATHAM — Members of the board of health this week said they’re hopeful that better enforcement, parking restrictions and signs will prevent overcrowding at Schoolhouse Pond so they can avoid ordering it closed over COVID-19 concerns.
The board voted to limit parking at the beach by 50 percent and to revisit the topic at its next meeting.
Though the health department has received numerous complaints that people are not maintaining the required social distancing at Schoolhouse Pond, the town’s only residents-only bathing beach, health board Chairman John Beckley said decisions should be made based on facts, not opinion. He said he has visited the beach eight times in the past week, and only saw overcrowding on two days. Several other health board members said they had also stopped by the beach numerous times and made similar observations.
“There are plenty of times when beach compliance is good,” Beckley said.
“The majority of times, there is adequate room to stay 12 feet apart,” board member Noble Hansen said. If the parking lot and overflow parking on Sam Ryder Road were used only by residents, there would be no need to close the beach, he said.
The board of selectmen last week rejected a request by the health board to ban parking on Sam Ryder Road, instead imposing a residents-only restriction. That new regulation cannot be enforced by police until signs are erected, and those signs have been ordered and should be installed prior to next Monday, Health and Natural Resources Director Robert Duncanson told the board Monday.
While the parks and recreation department had already been used traffic cones to block off half of the spaces in the beach parking lot, beachgoers have been moving those cones in order to park. In response, Parks and Recreation Director Dan Tobin said he would be using more substantial markers like barricades to cordon off the spaces.
Tobin said he was hopeful that the town will soon be able to provide an additional beach employee at Schoolhouse to monitor social distancing and remind people of the rules, but there have been few responses to the town’s help wanted ads.
“We have had a very challenging time finding help this year,” he said.
In their meeting last week, selectmen also asked the health board to reconsider the possibility of closing the beach in the interest of public health. But health board member Ronald Broman was the only one interested in doing so. He said he had observed overcrowding during two visits to the beach, and spoke to a neighbor who said she no longer visited the beach “because the people down there were not wearing masks. They were clustered together,” Broman said. “She was very upset.”