CHARLESTOWN — As neighboring towns opened their beaches, Charlestown opened its two town beaches and Ninigret Park this morning.
The openings were done quietly — and with a degree of trepidation.
The two state-run beaches, East Beach and Quonochontaug, including the boat launch, will remain closed.
Blue Shutters, Charlestown Beach and Little Nini pond are fully staffed and restrooms are open, but there will be fewer parking spaces, and coronavirus protocols, such as social distancing, will be enforced.
Town Council President Virginia Lee said she trusted that beachgoers would be cautious and respectful.
“I’m sure people will be respectful of one another’s health,” she said. “I know that the lifeguards have been all hired and trained and the police are doubling up, so the town is well-prepared for this. And, it’s wise to see how it goes.”
Town Administrator Mark Stankiewicz said the town had mustered its entire police department as well as Parks and Recreation staff. All town employees interacting with the public will be wearing masks.
“We will have extra officers on duty, we’ll have full staff available from Parks and Rec and we’re going to, of course, position informational signs, sandwich boards, posting rules, social distancing, all that other stuff,” he said. “We’ve also configured the credit cards, so that way, you don’t have to punch in your number, you just slide your credit card, so people don’t have to touch anything.”
One issue for Charlestown’s beaches, Stankiewicz said, is their accessibility. With Misquamicut State Beach still closed, there was a concern that Charlestown Beach might be overwhelmed with visitors.
“The beach layout and the lack of being able to secure the border, so to speak, it’s a little more tricky for us than other communities, because you can walk into the community. You can walk along the shoreline. It’s not as if it’s limited access.” he said.
Then there’s the issue of people’s behavior once they get to the beach.
“We’re all worried about our ability to enforce social distancing, and quite frankly, that’s going to be very challenging because there are exceptions; family members, those types of things,” Stankiewicz said.
Charlestown Emergency Management Director Kevin Gallup said he understood why people would be anxious to get outside and enjoy the beaches.
“I hope it goes well, but everybody’s fuses are short, everybody is aggravated by the whole situation. Hopefully we can do do this in a safe manner and everybody can benefit,” he said.
Officials were breathing a collective sigh of relief with Saturday’s weather forecast calling for clouds and rain, which was expected to keep the crowds away.
“I am confident that we can do this well, and the weather will cooperate, I think, to dampen huge attendance on Saturday,” Lee said. "It’s supposed to be cloudy at least. So it’s a good way to have a trial run, see how it goes. If it all goes well and people are respectful of one another, then we’ll stay open. If it doesn’t go well, we’ll close them down.”