CHARLESTOWN — Scott Keeley has some big plans for Charlestown Town Beach this summer.

Keeley went before the Town Council recently with a proposal to revamp the welcome signs at the entrance to the beach and its parking lot.

His new signs would replace the worn and tattered existing ones, which have deteriorated from the effects of sun, wind and water over time.

Keeley, a Charlestown resident, is passionate about public access to the beach, and he wants his new signs to convey to visitors their rights to the shore.

“It’s a matter of letting people know that this is their shore,” Keeley, a registered patent agent, said.

In addition to the usual rules and regulations governing the beach such as prohibitions on pets and alcohol, the signs will also sport a quotation from pertinent sections of the Rhode Island constitution.

It’s a quote from Section 1, Articles 16 & 17: “The people shall continue to enjoy and freely exercise all the rights of fishery, and privileges of the shore, to which they have been heretofore entitled ....”

Our Rhode Island shore ... “shall not be deemed to be a public use of private property.”

Keeley commissioned AA Thrifty Sign & Awning to produce schematics of signs for Charlestown Town Beach and Blue Shutters Beach. It was those drawings he showed to the Town Council last month.

In season, Keeley usually goes to the edge of the town beach with a sign of his own stating that shoreline rights are protected by the state Constitution.

“I’ll walk up and down the beach and tell people spread along the shore,” he said. “A lot of people say it’s going to cause a fight … and they came here to vacation, not fight with a security guard.”

Keeley’s no stranger to skirmishes over beach access.

In 2019, Keeley organized a protest that led to more than 200 supporters stepping over the Charlestown-South Kingstown line into the sands of exclusive beaches.

At that time, he also had a well-publicized run-in with a security guard who stopped him from picking up seaweed.

Keeley challenged the guard’s presence at a nearby private beach adjoining the Charlestown public beach. He was arrested for trespassing, but charges were later dropped because evidence about the line he crossed was too difficult to prove, police said.

The exact location of public access on private beaches is not clear and the Rhode Island Constitution only references a right of way. Over the decades there have been various debates, legal challenges to determining the location and differing ways to measure.

“I tell people to be reasonable. Stay reasonably close to the water. That’s where you want to be anyway,” he said.

He and a group of supporters are gearing up to push for legislation defining the area of public right. His group, he said, wants it to extend from the “shoreline plus 10” feet beyond. But they’d take “shoreline plus 6” feet, he said.

“We’re going to have a push for some letter-writing,” he said. “People feel if we don’t compromise, we aren’t going to get anything.”

Keeley also wants to do a sort of public relations campaign next Fourth of July. A plane towing a banner will say, “There is no private beach in Rhode Island.”

He’s also doing some fundraisers, including a *spotfund page, to raise money for the banner.

“It’s $50 a letter,” he said, plus fuel costs.

Keeley started coming to Charlestown in 1985, when his parents had a cottage. Later, after his own children moved off to college, Keeley decided to move to the beach permanently.

“If I could be anywhere, this is it,” he said.

He said a handful of out-of-state property owners are making trouble for everyone else along Charlestown Beach Road.

“The signs,” he said, “keep popping up. There’s one here that says, ‘No beach access.’ And that’s not true, there is Department of Environmental Management land at the end of this road, and CRMC rights-of-way to the beach. So there is beach access for the public beyond this point.”

Keeley would love to see his new signs installed by summer, although he’d need approval from town officials such as the Parks and Recreation Department first, he said.

He is encouraged by his appearance before the Town Council recently for his sign proposal.

“Nobody got up and spoke against it,” he said. “I had five heads nodding yes.”

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