An following is an open letter to the Narragansett Town Council:
This past weekend the Narragansett Town Beach was the scene of yet another large disturbance, resulting in eight people being arrested. This disturbance was of such a scale that the Narragansett Police Department had to call for assistance from South Kingstown PD, North Kingstown PD, State Police and the Rhode Island Environmental Police. What the town witnessed on Sunday, May 23 was an extreme event, but smaller, similar events have been occurring frequently throughout the summer months over the past few years as well.
It is a well-known fact that when large groups of people gather, and everyone is in very close proximity to one another, that incidents like this will occur. Add to this a mix of hot weather and unrestricted alcohol use and the result is predictable. Many times, in years past, it was not uncommon to find 10 to 12 thousand people on the beach daily. The Recreation Advisory Board has been successful in developing policies that limit the number of beach patrons and in so doing, improve the beach experience for all, with safety measures as a top concern.
Every year the Parks and Recreation Department conducts a Beach Survey to identify problems and find solutions. Each year several concerns are raised: overcrowding, underage drinking, rowdy patrons and lack of parking availability for town residents. The Recreation Advisory Board meets every late summer or early fall to develop policies that will address these concerns and create policies to promote a pleasant, safe, family-oriented beach experience for all.
The Recreation Advisory Board has been criticized by this Town Council and others for developing policies and procedures that meet the concerns raised in the Annual Beach Surveys and create a positive, and most importantly, a safe beach experience. Some of this criticism claims that these policies are not good for business, but I suggest that large disturbances at the Town Beach are a detractor for potential business and will not encourage people to come to Narragansett. It has also been suggested that allowing beach goers to park on residential town streets is good for business, but a recently released parking report issued over 10 years ago indicates that the opposite is true. This was the same point raised by the Recreation Advisory Board in the Fall of 2020 when policies were being developed for the 2021 beach season. A car occupying a parking space for 10 or more hours does not allow for people to park and visit local businesses.
Every resident of Narragansett realizes the history of Narragansett as a resort community. The residents of Narragansett understand that there is a balance that needs to be found for these complex issues. We all also know that the town beach, and the town as a whole for that matter, has a finite amount of space to work with. The proposed solution of trying to locate additional parking opportunities elsewhere in town and establishing some version of a town trolley is not the answer. Remember that the primary cause of the disturbance on the town beach this past weekend is overcrowding. It is also the number one concern raised on the annual beach surveys.
I urge the Town Council, as stewards of Narragansett’s future, to step back and reflect on what we want Narragansett to look like in the future. Do we want to celebrate its natural beauty, abundant fishing, outdoor activities, safe family beaches and friendly residents, or do we want to turn it into a Rhode Island version of Coney Island?
Thomas N. Warren
The author is the Chair of the Narragansett Recreation Advisory Board