Gradual reopening of state beaches leaves seaside town worried about holiday weekend

South County

WESTERLY, R.I. (WPRI) ─ With Memorial Day weekend around the corner, the seaside town of Westerly is raising concerns over the gradual reopening of Rhode Island’s state beaches.

Gov. Gina Raimondo recently announced that only two state beaches will reopen on Memorial Day: East Matunuck in South Kingstown and Scarborough in Narragansett.

She said Friday the rest of the beaches will reopen once Rhode Island enters Phase 2 of her plan to reopen the state’s economy, which she hopes will begin June 1.

Do I need to wear a mask on the beach? RI issues new guidelines » | List: What’s open right now in Rhode Island, Massachusetts »

Raimondo’s current plan is worrisome for Caswell Cooke, a member of the Westerly Town Council. He tells Eyewitness News keeping Misquamicut State Beach closed for Memorial Day could backfire, and without the state’s help, the town will be in over its head with the holiday crowds.

“We’re going to be picking up the slack in terms of rescuing people who drown, picking up the slack in cleaning up the trash,” Cooke said.

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Cooke said he’s already seeing beach parking lots crowded with people from all over Rhode Island and neighboring states. He said the purpose of keeping the rest of the state beaches closed will also have unintended consequences at smaller beaches, like nearby Wuskenau Town Beach.

Janet Peltier, a Westerly resident and Wuskenau Beach season pass holder, said she’s worried that the continued closure of Misquamicut will attract more visitors to Wuskenau.

“By only opening a few, you’re making everyone go to a few beaches, and we’ll be overcrowded,” Peltier said.

Cooke said even with large crowds, nearby businesses will also be adversely affected by the blanket regulations limiting outdoor dining capacity. The owner of Windjammer Surf Bar tells Eyewitness News that on any given day, he can safely seat 100 tables outside, but due to the restrictions, he is limited to 20.

Now, Cooke is sending one last SOS to Raimondo before the weekend crowds arrive.

“She needs to have security there, she needs to have trash cans and she needs to have lifeguards,” he said.

Cooke is proposing that Misquamicut’s parking lot be reopened in the meantime, since he believes people will flock there no matter what, and this way, they can ensure people are able to keep a safe distance.

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