SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) ─ The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) is teaming up with seaside communities to crack down on overcrowding at state beaches.
Gov. Gina Raimondo slashed the parking capacity at two of the state’s beaches Thursday in an effort to prevent large crowds.
Weather Now: Heat Wave expected this weekend »
Her decision, which is one she said she did not make lightly, comes after a weekend of packed parking lots and beaches.
“It got out of control last weekend and despite our best efforts, we weren’t able to control it,” she said.
The DEM said that Rhode Island’s eight state beaches have seen a 79% increase in visitors in June compared to the same time last year.
The parking restrictions, the DEM said, have led to a spike in illegal parking in nearby neighborhoods in Narragansett, South Kingstown, Charlestown and Westerly.
With the help of Rhode Island State Police troopers and local police departments, the DEM will be enforcing parking restrictions and managing beach traffic this upcoming weekend.
“DEM stands ready to support Governor Raimondo’s goal of fighting COVID-19 by restricting parking capacity at state beaches,” Chief of the DEM’s Division of Law Enforcement (DLE) Dean Hoxsie said.
“As we’ve seen on recent weekends, crowds at the beaches have been too large and tightly packed, especially at high tide,” she continued. “At the same time, we recognize that fighting COVID by limiting parking strains the resources of the local beach communities that are our partners.”
The DEM said state troopers will be stationed at the entrances to beach parking lots to prevent roadway parking once they’re at capacity.
The new parking restrictions means there will only be 675 spaces available at Misquamicut and 611 spaces between Scarborough’s north and south lots.
Beach communities are also stepping up their own patrols in nearby neighborhoods to prevent illegal parking.
Target 12 discovered this week that since July 3, the state’s seaside communities have seen some of the largest increases in COVID-19 cases as of late.
Westerly Police Chief Shawn Lacey ordered that all illegal parking fines in the areas of Larkin Road, Bay Street, Atlantic Avenue and Spray Rock Road will be increased from $75 to $150.
South Kingstown enacted an emergency measure Thursday that increases the parking fine in prohibited beach areas to $150.
Narragansett recently designated all “no parking zones” as “tow away zones,” which will carry a $75 fine. Parking will also be prohibited on the north side of Ocean Road only from Pilgrim Avenue to Rose Nulman Park.
In addition, the DEM is asking out-of-state residents to avoid traveling to Rhode Island beaches in an effort to keep the crowds down.
Citing an economic impact study conducted by the University of Rhode Island in 2016, the DEM said that nearly half of the people who visit Rhode Island’s beaches are from out of state. At Misquamicut alone, 77% of visitors are from out of state, most of whom are from Connecticut.
While admitting this is not a “very neighborly message,” DEM spokesperson Mike Healey said, “By discouraging out-of-staters from visiting RI beaches, yes, we hope to reduce the risk of coronavirus outbreaks in RI – and at the same time, to reduce the risk of spread when folks get back to their daily lives in New London, Old Saybrook, Middletown and elsewhere.”