Update: 5/27: A Board of Selectmen report that the gate will remain open at Turner Road during the day and parking will be available for residents for now. But the town was disappointed that police removed 70 people from the beach yesterday who disregarded the fencing installed to block access. The hope is that park rangers will be able to monitor the situation in the future and that the DPW will provide support, including for trash disposal.
And if you have the clever idea of heading over to lovely Farm Pond in Sherborn, stop. Sherborn Board of Health: “Tthe beach & boat ramp at Farm Pond is currently closed until further notice with the gates being locked. We are working hard to get safety measures for visitors and staff in place so that the Farm Pond Reservation can open once again. Please check this website for official notices regarding Farm Pond.”
Wellesley’s Recreation Commission, which has been wrestling for months with COVID-19’s ramifications on the Recreation Department’s offerings, decided this week that the town will not offer its usual array of Morses Pond services. That means no lifeguards, beach passes, kayak rentals, snack shack or bathrooms.
It was pretty obvious from recent Rec Commission meetings that the members were leaning this way, despite continuing to explore seemingly all angles. They crunched all sorts of numbers to figure out how reducing parking, making the beach residents-only, or other configurations might make things manageable in light of strict COVID-19 inspired rules about operating such a facility. They’d also been monitoring what other communities have been doing, and a number (Bedford, Foxborough, etc.) have already decided to close their beaches.
If the Morses Pond beach is to be available this summer it will likely be in a swim-at-your-own-risk way, but more town departments will be weighing in before that becomes sanctioned (parts of Morses pond already are swim at your own risk). In addition to safety concerns at the beach, with its notorious drop-off from the sand, sanitation and other issues will be factors in any decision.
The town is trying to make sense of beach and other guidelines set forth by the state in its reopening plan, and decide on what will work for Wellesley (th School Committee this week voted “to authorize the re-opening of school-owned fields and tennis courts in conjunction with the reopening plan for NRC-owned land that is currently under development.”) With temps on the rise this week, dozens have already been flocking to the closed beach.
The Rec Commission’s decision in large part came down to overwhelming challenges in providing a safe environment for staff and patrons. Lifeguards would essentially need to bring family members with them to serve as training buddies each morning. The wearing of masks by lifeguards and the possible double duty of policing social distancing provides another set of challenges that the commission deemed untenable. Rec Commission member Jim Rodrigue also raised the question of whether the beach crowd could result in “viral shedding” that could impact the wider community’s safety.
The possibility remains that the town could devise a compromise approach. Perhaps re-locking the Turner Road gate to dissuade crowds. Perhaps posting bouncers at the beach entrances to keep chuckleheads from being too chuckleheaded.
“I think this is one of those problems that whatever you decide, when you squeeze it in one place like that doll where the eyes pop out, or somewhere else the arms or whatever, there’s not going to be an easy solution,” said Rec Commission Chair Paul Cramer.
Having the beach closed for official Recreation Department activities is no huge hit financially for the town, as it typically loses $30K-$60K on the venture. Slap on thousands more in expenses to cover regular deep cleanings and that would get even uglier. What’s more, half the usual revenue comes from daily fees, and that option wouldn’t be offered in light of the move toward contactless transactions, says Rec Director Matt Chin.
But the beach is held dear in town for many reasons, especially for those who don’t have the luxury of escaping to a beach house. It also provides dozens of summer jobs for locals (including one of the Swellesley Jrs., in years past) and offers a nearby place to cool off and hang out for residents, many of whom will likely be staying closer to home this summer in light of travel restrictions and health concerns.