The Yarmouth Board of Selectmen voted unanimously this week to reopen town beaches, which had been closed since mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The beaches are open per the vote taken by the board of selectmen on Tuesday night,” said Town Administrator Daniel Knapik in an e-mail message Thursday.
The vote on Tuesday came nearly two months after the Yarmouth Board of Health had closed beaches and other recreational areas, which vexed some residents who were craving healthy distractions from the daily barrage of alarming news about the pandemic and the time spent cooped up at home.
Yarmouth was believed to be the only Cape community to ban access to its beaches in response to the health crisis, according to officials.
“I believe 1 or 2 towns had closed access to their marinas and Falmouth I believed closed their parking lots,” Knapik wrote. He said that from a practical point of view, "the select board’s vote supersedes the board of health vote,” and that the health panel will meet Monday to discuss the matter.
“Guidance consistent with the recent order by the Governor related to the use of facial coverings and recommended social distancing measures will be provided to the public via the website and social media shortly,” Knapik wrote. "Signage informing the public of these provisions will be installed in the coming days.”
Initially during the Tuesday night select board meeting, which was conducted remotely, Selectman Norman Holcomb had sought a vote that would have allowed beaches and parks to reopen.
“My intent is to have our town be on a par with every other town in our area,” Holcomb said at the meeting, calling on his colleagues to “be serious about what has been done here. Nothing’s been done but aggravate people."
In response, Selectman Tracy Post voiced support for opening beaches but not parks.
“I am hesitant when you include parks,” she said. “You’re talking about dog parks, are we prepared? ... The other towns have closed their playgrounds and parks. It’s just, the only thing that Yarmouth has done [with closings] that they haven’t was the beaches. So I would support that, but I won’t support the parks at this time."
After Post spoke, Holcomb agreed to take parks off his motion.
The move to open the beaches later passed unanimously.
“I think we all agree that walking in open spaces as long as you observe social distancing isn’t harmful,” said select board Chairman Michael Stone.
Yarmouth saltwater beaches include Bay View Beach, Colonial Acres Beach, Englewood Beach, Seagull Beach, Smuggler’s Beach, Parker’s River Beach, Sea View Beach, South Middle Beach, Wilbur Park Beach, Windmill Beach, and Bass Hole, also known as Gray’s Beach, according to the town website.
Freshwater beaches include Long Pond (also known as Wings Grove), Flax Pond Recreation Area, Sandy Pond Recreation Area, and Dennis Pond, the site says.
Governor Charlie Baker’s emergency order shuttering non-essential businesses and banning gatherings of more than 10 people is slated to expire May 18. A stay-at-home advisory urging people to remain at home except for trips for essential items remains in effect, in addition a requirement that people wear face coverings in public when they can’t socially distance.
Yarmouth Health Director Bruce G. Murphy said Thursday in a phone interview that officials prior to Tuesday had been discussing plans for reopening the beaches, with Memorial Day approaching. He said the Board of Health closed the beaches in March in an effort to limit gatherings.
“It’s just a concern,” he said, noting that the statewide stay-at-home advisory remains in effect. “It’s a tough issue.”
Meanwhile beaches remain open on the Cape Cod National Seashore, which stretches from from Eastham to Provincetown, according to an advisory on the national seashore’s website.
“In response to the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak, Cape Cod National Seashore closed public buildings, including restrooms, on March 16, 2020,” the notice says. “Beaches, trails, and parking areas remain open.”