SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — East Matunuck in South Kingstown and Scarborough in Narragansett will lead the way in the re-opening of Rhode Island’s state beaches, which starts this Memorial Day weekend.
Both will open on Monday, May 25, with restrictions related to preventing the spread of COVID-19 in place. Both will be open daily.
“Memorial Day in Rhode Island is a big deal,” Gov. Gina M. Raimondo said. “Our beaches are part of who we are. I grew up going to the beach every Memorial Day. We all look forward to it. That first voyage to the beach is part of who we are.”
The Department of Environmental Management made the announcement Monday, along with opening all state parks.
“We want people to go out side, get some fresh air and enjoy nature and our parks, but all of the same rules will apply,” Raimondo said.
The parking lots at East Matunuck and Scarborough North will be open beginning on Memorial Day. Parking will be free, however, the number of parking spots will be reduced, and parking gates may need to be closed at times depending on beach capacity, the state DEM said.
“This will be a very limited reopening,” Raimondo said.
DEM will have staff present to welcome and handle visitors, but no lifeguards. Concessions, along with beach pavilions and their restrooms and showers, will be closed, but Portajohns will be available in the parking lots.
In addition, DEM said that beach-goers must practice the same precautions against coronavirus spread, including maintaining a six-foot separation between other people, including between groups on the beach, and wearing masks in public or high foot traffic areas.
DEM said it is aiming to open all state beaches in early June. Lifeguards will be on duty and concessions, beach pavilions and restrooms will be open, although some of the similar restrictions might be in place, the state said.
Last week in South Kingstown, the Town Council adopted the 2020 beach policy, which limits the town beach to 1,200 people at a time and includes other restrictions and changes in operational protocols to address the safety of patrons and staff, Leisure Services Director Theresa Murphy said.
“There will be a significant reduction as we broach the beach season,” she said.
Town beach season lasts from May 23 to Labor Day.
Resident season passes will be limited to 850, down from about 1,000, she said, and nonresident passes have been suspended. However, it does not include day passes, she said.
Fees have not changed from 2019, she added.
In Narragansett, Town Manager James Tierney said plans are in the works to reopen the town beach, but could not give a firm date for when it will happen.
“The beach will open,” Tierney said. “The plan began last week with the curbside pickup of passes.”
Recreation Director Steven Wright said the plan allows the town to increase or decrease attendance as the need arises.
The town beach has 350,000 square feet of beach at high tide, Wright said. Dividing that by 100 square feet per person would allow for 3,500 people, which Wright called a conservative number.
“That’s a number we want to build up to,” he said.
Based on prior attendance measurements, the beach can see up to 8,000 visitors on a busy weekday and 12,000 on a busy weekend day, Wright said.
“So 3,500 people at 100 square feet per person, we can handle that,” he said. The main focus is keeping visitors and staff safe to enjoy the beach, he said.
“Beach staff has been trained and prepared with the proper cleaning agents and PPE,” he said.
Maintenance, such as rubbish removal and grading of the beach, will not change from 2019.