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Crowded beaches could be a forecast for summer

Beachgoers visited Salisbury Beach Thursday afternoon.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Thursday was Kelsey Kelich’s 29th birthday, and she was supposed to be on her honeymoon in Greece. Instead, she and her husband snuggled into their own spot of sand among the rocks of Duxbury Beach, taking in what fresh air and sunshine they could.

“Anything to get us out the apartment,” said Kelich, of Dorchester, as she and her husband Pete socially distanced themselves from other beachgoers.

As warmer weather arrives, and an order closing state beaches is lifted, thousands of residents a day could begin flocking to the state’s 192 miles of coast line, looking for respite from weeks of home confinement. But that has officials worried — and with good reason, judging by the crowds that packed beaches along the North Shore on an 80-degree Wednesday.


Police cleared Rice’s Beach in Beverly after a large crowd of teens packed themselves onto the sand, Mayor Mike Cahill said in a Facebook post, and the beach remained closed Thursday. Images of the scene shared by media outlets showed dozens of teens and other beachgoers crammed together without masks.

“I get it, teens, I empathize with you,” Cahill said in the post. “If this was last summer, we would have smiled to see you socializing and enjoying yourselves in the sun. The problem is we just can’t gather and socialize in this way right now.”

In Salisbury, Police Chief Thomas Fowler said Salisbury Beach was “inundated,” on what he called an “unusually busy” day.

“I think people tried as well as they could [to follow guidelines], but I did see photos where people were too close to each on the beach,” Fowler said, though he added that police had not moved to break up games or large crowds.

Susan Quack-Harris, who lives near Salisbury Beach with her husband, said she was appalled when she saw the beach scene Wednesday.


“No one was social distancing or wearing masks. It was like [COVID-19] just disappeared or people just don’t care,” she said. “We won’t go to the beach since no regulations or restrictions are being followed.”

Many beachgoers were not from the area, Fowler said. He ran into people from Fitchburg and Marlborough, and said he personally saw an influx of visitors from New Hampshire, where beaches remain closed.

Beach traffic was another issue. Only one of the beach’s three parking lots were open and it quickly filled up, Fowler said. People had to wait in line to pay for parking, while other incoming beachgoers had to find parking on the streets or wait for cars to leave the lot, he said.

Two fights also broke out near the beach. Fowler said there was a small fight in the parking lot and another erupted on a street near the beach between two women, one of whom will be summonsed to court.

“Tempers are a little high right now,” Fowler said.

The early-season sneak preview of summer, coming as stay-at-home restrictions have only begun to ease, could force officials to re-examine public health guidelines at beaches and shores.

But scaling back beach freedoms now could also backfire and cause revolt, as beachgoers have been drowning for any bit of fresh air and sunshine and an escape from the indoors.

On Thursday a day after Rice Beach was closed, a few carloads of young people could be seen heading toward the beach, only to turn away at the sight of a police cruiser at the entrance.


“We’ve been in our houses loaded down with schoolwork, and not seeing your friends is hard,” said Kelsi Dalvon, a 16-year-old who was walking by with her dog. She wasn’t at Rice Beach Wednesday, only because she was working.

“By shutting down the beach, they’re forcing young people to find other, more risky ways to get together,” she said.

At other area beaches on Thursday, patrons were playing by the rules, socially distancing from others or keeping to their blankets. Many wore masks as they walked along pathways.

Kelich said she had not been bothered by anyone (until she was interviewed by a reporter). And although Thursday’s weather was milder and less sunny than the day before, Duxbury officials reported no concerns with beach activity: At one point Wednesday, the non-resident permit parking lot by Blakemans Restaurant had reached capacity, but the cut-off was lifted not long after. Non-residents could still pay to park on the other side of the lot.

Hailey Landers, a resident who has brought her 8-month-old son to the beach over the last several days for fresh air, said she has not encountered any incident that would deter her from returning.

“We just hope that people will continue to respect the rules, so that we can all enjoy the beach,” she said.

Philip E. Lemnios, town manager in Hull, where Nantasket Beach is one of the few destination beaches on the South Shore featuring restaurants and hotels, said crowds have only begun to arrive. Lemnios saw some small groups, mainly young people, that worried him on Wednesday, though not at the levels of Beverly and Salisbury.


Lemnios added, though, that Nantasket’s crowds have been dictated by the state’s ongoing closure of parking lots it controls along the shore. The area could begin seeing more crowds once the closure is lifted — a true “test” for the season.

“There’s a lot of pent up demand to get out, get fresh air, get some sunshine,” he said. “I think the issue for us will be trying to figure out how people can enjoy their summer the best way possible.”

Even with the parking ban, though, residents still made their way to the beach. A family from Braintree, with two young kids in tow, enjoyed the sand with social distance after a relative gave them a ride and dropped them off. Four young people claimed their own blanket spot away from anyone else and began to lather on sun screen. “You just have to get out when you can,” said Shawn Cornell, 21, of Abington.

Mary Ellen Dalia, of Boston, enjoyed the beach recently with her grandchildren. She returned Thursday, with friends, after parking at a friend’s nearby cottage and walking over.

“The beach here is big enough, you can separate,” she said. For now, anyway.

Billy Baker of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.


Milton J. Valencia can be reached at Follow him @miltonvalencia and on Instagram @miltonvalencia617.