PROVIDENCE – With the forecast calling for temperatures in the mid-90s both days this weekend and a 75% parking restriction still in effect at Misquamicut and Scarborough state beaches, state and local law enforcement agencies are gearing up again to limit crowds, manage traffic, and crack down on illegal parking. This strategy – which also included improved signage on the sand and employees from the Rhode Island Department of Health passing out free face masks to beachgoers who were not wearing them – resulted in the safest conditions on state beaches observed all summer July 18-19. "We have sand again!" said the manager at Misquamicut State Beach in Westerly upon seeing the smaller crowd on the beach front.
With more than 1,000 Rhode Islanders now having died from the coronavirus and an increase in positive cases over the last three days, the state remains focused on prevention.
"We cannot let up on our efforts to fight the pandemic," said RI Department of Environmental Management (DEM) Director Janet Coit. "It continues to take a terrible toll on our state and challenges state and local leaders to work together to protect public health. Governor Raimondo and DEM are grateful for the commitment, cooperation, and resources that the towns of Narragansett, South Kingstown, Charlestown, and Westerly have contributed to the effort to control crowding, traffic, and parking violations."
The 75% parking restrictions mean that there are only 675 available spaces out of a total of 2,700 at Misquamicut and 611 available spots out of 2,445 at the combined Scarborough North and South lots. DEM strongly encourages anyone who is thinking about coming to a state beach this weekend to check www.riparks.com for the parking capacity status of each beach lot before getting into the car. Despite limiting parking capacity by 50% to 75%, Rhode Island's eight state beaches experienced a 79% increase in visitors in June 2020 (340,000 visitors) over June 2019 (190,000 visitors). Until last weekend, crowds had been too large and tightly packed, especially at high tide when there is less room on the sand and people are squeezed together.
As it did last weekend, DEM is encouraging residents from Connecticut and Massachusetts not to visit Rhode Island beaches. "By keeping crowds down and allowing for physical distancing on the sand, we are trying to protect public health and safety – in Rhode Island and other states," Director Coit said. "We also are trying to help our beach communities alleviate the heavy traffic that they have been experiencing this summer."
Again this weekend, Environmental Police Officers from DEM's Division of Law Enforcement will be stationed at the entry booths of state beaches. They will coordinate, communicate lot capacity with Rhode Island State Police (RISP) Troopers and municipal police, and facilitate closing the entrances when lots are full. RISP Troopers will be positioned at the roadway entrances to the parking chutes to prevent roadway parking once the beach lots are full.
The local police departments have assigned extra officers to assist with traffic control and writing tickets for parking violations. Beach municipalities have stepped up ticketing and towing with tickets for illegal parking topping out at $150.
o Charlestown will be strictly enforcing all prohibited parking zones in beach areas and secondary roads, and will deploy additional personnel to enforce traffic laws leading into and out of beach areas.
o Narragansett designated all no-parking zones as tow-away zones, effective July 17 and in force until further notice. The fine for a parking violation in a tow zone is $75.
o South Kingstown enacted an emergency measure July 16 that doubled the fine for parking in a prohibited beach area to $150. The executive order includes locations along the entire length of Succotash Road, which is the only way into or out of East Matunuck State Beach.
o Westerly posted the entire beach area as a tow zone and doubled fines for violations to $150 from $75.
Nearly half – 47% – of visitors to RI beaches are out-of-staters, according to an economic impact study conducted by the University of Rhode Island in 2016 (page 8). Misquamicut attracts more out-of-state visitors – 77%, most of whom are from Connecticut – than any state beach. For more information about DEM divisions and programs, visit http://www.dem.ri.gov. Follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RhodeIslandDEM or on Twitter (@RhodeIslandDEM) for timely updates.