WESTERLY — The weather forecast for Saturday, Sunday and Monday calls for temperatures in the mid-60s to 70s — conditions that typically draw big crowds to Misquamicut during Memorial Day weekend.
But this year, the sun- and ocean-loving masses will not have access to the parking lot at the facility that is synonymous, for many, with the village — Misquamicut State Beach. That's because while Gov. Gina Raimondo announced Monday that two smaller state beaches will open on May 25, Misquamicut State Beach will remain closed as the state slowly loosens restrictions put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The decision is drawing criticism from some town officials.
"If the weather is nice this weekend, we're all going to be in for it, and it just puts undo pressure on our town resources and our businesses and facilities to have to handle everybody while the state is just locking up the gate and walking away," Caswell Cooke Jr., a member of the Town Council and president of the Misquamicut Business Association, said Monday.
While the state beach parking lot, which holds about 2,800 vehicles, will be closed, Cooke said visitors will inevitably find their way to the state beach. On Tuesday, he said he hoped state officials would at least open the bathrooms and consider assigning staff to handle trash collection.
Cooke stressed that he is grateful for the willingness of Raimondo and state Department of Environmental Management Director Janet Coit to work with town and Misquamicut officials in recent years. Through those collaborative efforts, he said, trash and traffic problems have eased.
"I wish it had been done better. I know the governor has a lot of stuff to worry about and health has to come first, but it's easier for them to just shut it down and we're left holding the bag," Cooke said.
Town Councilor Brian McCuin shared Cooke's perspective.
"It's very disappointing," McCuin said.
Raimondo, during her daily news conference on the state's response to the pandemic, announced that state beaches in South Kingstown (East Matunuck) and Narragansett (Scarborough) will open on Monday. She said operational factors influenced the decision.
"This is a heavy lift to open even two beaches," Raimodo said.
The two beaches will be open but with limited amenities and only parts of the facilities' parking lots available. Portable restrooms will be installed but there will be no lifeguards or concessions. Basically, Raimondo said, state officials decided to open the two beaches to give families a chance to walk on the beach.
The governor said information on when the other state beaches will open would be forthcoming.
"It is our hope that as we enter Phase 2, the other beaches will reopen. Again, in a limited fashion," Raimondo said.
The state is currently in Phase 1 of the reopening.
Council President Christopher Duhamel stressed that Town Manager J. Mark Rooney and Police Chief Shawn Lacey are in close communication with Raimondo's administration and officials with the DEM.