Visualize the postcard. Here’s one possible scenario for beach goers at Wellesley’s Morses Pond this summer:
“The way guidelines are currently laid out you see a lot of No’s. There’s no swim lessons, there’s no grill rentals, there’s no picnic tables, there’s no playground, there’s no volleyball, you can’t throw a frisbee. You’d literally be coming to the beach, sitting in the sand with a mask on, taking that mask off, waking down to the water, swimming, coming back to your plot of beach, putting your mask back on, and that’s your day at the beach.”
This from Wellesley Recreation Director Matt Chin, who is actually no marketing slouch.
His description of not-such-a-day-at-the-beach (granted, mask rules might not be so strict for those hanging with family) came during Wednesday’s Recreation Commission meeting. If you have 2 hours to spare, watch Wellesley Public Media’s recording of the Recreation Commission meeting and it will give you a sense of the many issues being weighed.
The town has shut the beach down for now before its usual opening date in early June and hasn’t made any definite decisions for the summer. But town officials spanning the Rec Commission and Rec Department to the Natural Resources Commission, first responders, the Health Department, legal, and Board of Selectmen will all have a say in this situation before it’s over.
One centerpiece of the meeting was a grid featuring 5 possible scenarios that take into consideration everything from lifeguards to bathrooms (no port-a-potties that contain “storage”) to parking capacity to grill rentals. Options–and this is not to say the chart represented all possible options–ranged the traditional summer experience to the status quo. Doing anything in the middle raises questions of whether the town is actually managing the pond, and that can lead to certain expectations by the public as well as liability issues.
No decision was made about the pond’s fate at the meeting, held a day before a meeting of those operating beaches at in surrounding communities. The town is also trying to gets its arms around the latest state guidance on beach operations.
But as Rec Director Chin stressed throughout the Rec Commission meeting, his goal is to provide the public and his staff with safe opportunities–a huge challenge in light of the pandemic.
Among the most challenging issues will be asking staff, many of them teens, to regularly be in “a confrontational position” regarding the policing of mask wearing and social distancing. They’ll need to deal both with those not following rules and self-appointed social distancing police. Not to mention there would be little rotation of jobs at the pond, which has the potential to make certain jobs really dull.
As Rec Commission Chair Paul Cramer summarized: “The traditional experience raises a LOT of issues.”
But so does going the other way. Not having the town operate the beach and letting people fend for themselves…minus bathrooms, among other amenities, at a public water supply. Taking this swim-at-your-own-risk approach during the heart of summer during the COVID-19 crisis is a lot different than doing it at the end of last summer, when plenty of people were still away and college kids had started to head off.
As Commission member Jim Rodrigue pointed out, too, “there will be less and less mask wearing as the temperatures get warmer and warmer, because it’s not comfortable…” Or as Police Chief Jack Pilecki said, sun tanners aren’t going to want to wear a mask that results in a pale patch.
In the end, Rec Director Chin said the town is going to have to provide some level of management, even if the beach is technically closed for the summer.
“Just to walk away from it, I don’t want our department to do that. I’d love to be able to help in some way,” he said. “If it means I stand at the gate and have to explain to people what’s going on, then that’s what we’re going to do.”