Westerly town beaches busy at start of Memorial Day weekend, state beach remains closed

WESTERLY, R.I. (WLNE) – Parking lots along Atlantic Avenue in Westerly were full Friday, as people flocked to the town beaches at the start of Memorial Day weekend.

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management has only opened two state beaches for the holiday, East Matunuck and Scarborough, with restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But town beaches are allowed to reopen, as long as they follow the state’s reopening guidelines.

Westerly Town Beach and Wuskenau Town Beach saw plenty of beachgoers Friday, even though Misquamicut State Beach remains closed.

“I’m concerned. We tried to get as prepared on short notice as best we could with limited staff. I know what this normally looks like on a busy summer day, so there’s gonna be a lot of people here.”

Amy Martira, general manager of the Windjammer on Atlantic Avenue, is bracing for a busy weekend. Martira and her husband, whose family has owned the seaside restaurant since 1921, is hoping to break even this summer to make it to their 100th anniversary next year.

She said she wishes she could seat everyone who comes by, but with the state’s restrictions they’re limited. Martira just hopes everyone is compliant.

“I know the people are coming, we’re gonna do our best to manage it.”

The Windjammer has a private lot, but many patrons park at the state beach and head down to the restaurant. With that lot still chained, it’s been an added stress on her shoulders.

“Our parking lots are going to be extra full this weekend because we’re down 3,000 or so spots. While they can still go walk on the beach, parking is going to be a cluster.”

Caswell Cooke, Westerly town councilor and executive director of the Misquamicut Business Association, has been urging Governor Gina Raimondo do reopen the state beach parking lot.

“I think by locking the gate and sort of throwing away the key for the weekend, it’s gonna cause more of a public safety hazard down here at the beach.”

Cooke believes it’s safer for beachgoers to park at the state beach where they can spread out, rather than be forced to park in small lots. He said whether or not the state beach is closed, people are still going to spend the holiday in Westerly.

“This weekend, no matter what, they’re coming, and we can’t stop it unless you wanna shut down 95.”

Smaller lots, Cooke estimates, have around 2,000 spots total, but that’s not enough. He said they haven’t received any restrictions on private lots from the state, and it’s put the pressure on those property owners.

When it comes to the enforcement of state guidelines at the town beaches, Cooke said it simply isn’t enforceable.

“Who’s picking up the trash? Who’s gonna rescue people drowning? It’s not fair for the Misquamicut Business Association and the town of Westerly to have to pick up the slack from the state.”

Raimondo said Friday that enforcement will be upped this weekend when it comes to out-of-state travelers visiting Rhode Island, but sh said she will not be reopening the state’s checkpoints.

RIDEM estimates that 80% of beachgoers at Misquamicut come from out of state, most from Connecticut. Spokesman Mike Healey said they don’t have the manpower to reopen any additional state beaches for the holiday weekend.

© WLNE-TV 2020

Categories: Coronavirus, News, Regional News, Rhode Island