Lifeguard Audrey Fletcher, right, checks identification of a woman who walked in with children Friday at the driveway into Monmouth’s town beach. Fletcher said that staffers rotate shifts on the entry chair and the life guard chair watching swimmers in Cochnewagon Lake. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

In previous years, Monmouth has discussed whether to restrict use of its beach to town residents.

This year, with an eye on helping maintain appropriate social distancing because of the coronavirus, the town opted to make the change. And they’re asking for people to bring proof of residency.

“This was a really difficult decision,” said Monmouth Recreation Director Joseph Fletcher, who said the change was discussed several times before the Board of Selectmen adopted it. “It’s a one-year mandate. We’ll revisit it next year and hopefully return to normal.”

Monmouth’s waterfront director, Lisa Hasch, said there will be someone at the entrance checking for proof of residency from people coming to the beach.

“Anything with a legal address on it; a license, dump pass, electric bill,” she said. “Any form of that will work for now.”

Since someone will be monitoring the entrance, Hasch said, there will be an extra lifeguard on duty this summer. They will rotate between guarding and monitoring the entrance. She said they rotate positions every half hour to hour, depending on the weather and how busy the beach is that day.

“Usually we have two lifeguards for the busy times and when it’s not super busy there is one,” Hasch said. “This year, there will be an additional person there.”

Other Kennebec County communities, however, are not being so strict.

In Belgrade, for example, no restrictions are in place at the town boat landings and swim area, said Town Manager Anthony Wilson. “No restrictions, but we do remind people to be at a safe social distance,” Wilson said.

Belgrade’s boat and swim areas are intended to be for town residents only, but that’s on the honor system.

“We have nine full-time employees, so there’s no staff available to monitor our boat landings and one swim area,” Wilson said.

 

MONMOUTH’S CHANGE

Fletcher said there has been support from Monmouth town residents for the change, adding that in past years there has been discussion of making the beach residents-only because it can get crowded.

Lifeguard Audrey Fletcher sits beside signs Friday at the end of the driveway into Monmouth’s town beach. The town’s new policy is to only allow residents into the beach this year. Fletcher said that staffers rotate shifts on the entry chair and the life guard chair watching swimmers in Cochnewagon Lake. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

“There are times when the beach is really busy with many out-of-towners,” Fletcher said. “It can be frustrating for residents who pay taxes in this town and can’t relax because it is overcrowded.”

But the change this year is strictly for safety precautions related to the coronavirus. There are no plans to put other limits in place regarding the number of people that can be at the beach.

“At this point we don’t think there will be (restrictions of the number of people),” Fletcher said. “It’s a substantially sized area, where people can practice safe distancing.

“We will have to play that by ear and see how things evolve,” he added.

Lifeguards are not being required to wear a mask if they are sitting in their stand or at the entrance, but will given them to use for situations when they are not socially distanced from people.

“They’re sitting up on the stand, not down where the public is,” Hasch said, noting the town is following American Red Cross standards for its lifeguards. “Masks restrict breathing, and it’s not good for their health, in terms of getting overheated.”

The only time they are required to wear a mask is when they are performing first aid.

“It is a standard precaution (when performing first aid) to wear rubber gloves and other protective equipment,” Hasch said.

Other precautions being taken for lifeguards are that they will have their own rescue tube and all the equipment, which will not be shared between then, will be sanitized.

Hasch said the town also has sanitizing protocols ready for swim lessons, which will be offered this summer.

“We will be sanitizing equipment before other kids can use it,” she said. “We have a sanitizing bucket and system in place.”

As for number of students, Hasch said they are trying to keep participants to no more than eight.

“We’re trying to spread out the classes a little bit more,” she said. “We are offering private lessons, so if a family has three kids and wants a private lesson, we’re accommodating that, too.”

While the beach is strictly for Monmouth residents this year, the town is allowing them to bring guests.

“The guest would have to be with the town resident,” said Fletcher. “If friends of mine were to come from Massachusetts, they couldn’t go to the beach by themselves, they would have to be with me.”

 

OTHER TOWNS

In Oakland, the town’s two such public areas are intended only for residents, but that continues to be on the honor system. Oakland has a waterfront park off Old Belgrade Road, along Messalonskee Lake; and a larger beach area off McGrath Pond.

“They’re open and it’s been busy,” said Eric Seekins, the town’s recreation director. “There are only the normal social distancing rules. It’s on the books for Oakland residents only and we’re relying on people to follow that.”

The town of China’s public boat landing at the head of China Lake remains open with signage that asks people to observe social distancing, according to Town Manager Dennis Heath.

“We’re also telling people not to fish from the dock,” Heath said.

About eight to 10 boat rigs can fit in the gravel lot along the causeway near the dock, Heath said, while the paved China Baptist Church allows its lot to be used as well for some overflow.

“We’ve had no issues whatsoever,” Heath said. “My observations are people who use that area are accustomed to it and they practice being respectful of one another’s rigs.”

In Richmond, Town Manager Adam Garland said the attendants at Peacock Beach have been asked to make sure visitors follow social distancing guidelines, but the town has put no other restrictions in place.

“At this point, that’s the extent of it,” Garland said. “Thus far we have not had any problems and the public seems very cooperative and understanding.”

Richmond’s beach, located on Pleasant Pond just off Route 201, opened for Memorial Day weekend and is open from dawn to dusk through Labor Day. Admission is $3 for adults and $2 for children; state park passes are not accepted.

Wilson, the town manager in Belgrade, said he expects the summer will go smoothly at the public beach areas, as residents have already been agreeable to the restrictions at the town office that require masks and limit the number of people inside.

“From what I can see in the community,” Wilson said, “people are being very mindful of the need to adopt healthy habits.”

Managing Editor Scott Monroe and Kennebec Journal reporter Jessica Lowell contributed reporting. 


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