CHATHAM — Despite severe overcrowding Monday, the board of health says that parking restrictions and other efforts are reducing congestion on the beach at Schoolhouse Pond. The board ordered additional parking deterrents in a bid to keep COVID-19 from spreading among beachgoers who are not social distancing or wearing masks.
On Friday, the town installed signs along Sam Ryder Road limiting parking to residents only and used wooden barricades to block off a row of parking spaces. The traffic cones that were previously in use there were frequently tossed aside by by motorists. The health board members agreed that progress had been made since its last meeting.
But on Monday, health board member Ed Sheehan said he visited the beach at 1:30 p.m. and counted 64 adults and 32 young people, far more than the number that can be on the beach while following mandatory social distancing rules.
“They sure as hell are not doing anything to protect themselves at all,” Sheehan said. Officials said that, given the small size of the sandy shore, it’s impossible to have more than a few people on the beach while maintaining a 12-foot separation between families and a six-foot buffer around the lifeguard stand to protect against COVID-19.
Board Chairman John Beckley said he also stopped by Monday and saw more cars in the parking lot than he’d ever seen before, aside from one day in July. There were 21 cars in the parking lot, which normally holds 18 and had been reduced to half-capacity by town officials.
“That’s too many. It’s too many in order to give the people who are there the opportunity to self-distance,” Beckley said. Cars were parked on and off the pavement all around the perimeter of the lot. “That is the problem, in my view,” he said. The health board has tried to reduce parking in a bid to reduce the number of beachgoers. “What I saw today was an overloaded beach because our efforts to restrict parking are being circumvented by members of the public who are willing to park virtually anywhere they can find a spot,” he said.
Beckley saw that one motorist had moved a wooden barricade to claim a parking spot. Beckley said he spoke to a police officer who said he couldn’t issue a citation “because there was no official signage prohibiting a car from parking there.” The officer was limited to checking for resident-only beach stickers, he said.
Board member Ron Broman said additional no parking signs are needed around the perimeter of the lot, with wording that allows police to enforce the rules.
Health and Natural Resources Director Robert Duncanson said that the town could replace the wooden sawhorses with heavy concrete blocks that motorists won’t be able to move. The board voted unanimously in favor of installing the new signs and blocks.
“I think we can still make this work if we take several more steps to reduce the crowd size,” Beckley said.
“And we haven’t even mentioned Jackknife Cove, which looks like Coney Island,” board member Alan Ward said.