A Different Kind of Summer


What’s In Store For Local Beaches

 This summer will be different. Normally as we approach Memorial Day weekend, there is plenty to celebrate with the beach opening for the season, concessions back up and running and more. As with everything else, coronavirus has called for some changes in every aspect of the beginning of the beach season. From what’s open to what’s not from Rockaway to Riis Park, here’s a rundown.

Last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo gave the greenlight for the state to open beaches, with some limits in mind. He also gave local jurisdictions the power to enact a plan for whether or not to open beaches. Mayor Bill de Blasio has called for New York City beaches to be closed. But the language behind this may be causing confusion. A week after Labor Day, the beaches typically “close” for the season, meaning lifeguards are off duty until Memorial Day weekend. This Memorial Day, there will be no lifeguards, meaning the beaches will remain “closed” to swimming. But as they are in the winter, people will still be able to access the sand to sit and walk on. The ocean is off limits. In addition to no swimming, the city asks beachgoers to refrain from large gatherings, parties and sports. As the city positioned metal fencing near beach openings this week, it served as a reminder that more limits may be put in place if these rules are openly flouted.

“We’re going to give people a chance to get it right, if people don’t get it right, if we start to see a lot of violations of those rules, up will come the fences,” de Blasio said during a press conference on Sunday, May 17. Parks Enforcement Patrol, NYPD and School Safety officers will be providing reminders for people to maintain social distance, to stay out of the water, and to avoid sports, parties and large gatherings. Individual instances here and there will not cause beaches to close, but a blatant disregard may cause the city to install the fences at beach entrances, closing the sand to all. 

A factor behind de Blasio’s decision is to deter crowds from flocking to city beaches at a time when social distancing is still being suggested to prevent the spread of coronavirus in the hardest-hit city in the world. With this comes the desire to keep people off of public trains, buses and ferries that crowds utilize to get to the beach, while allowing those who live directly in local beach communities to enjoy access. “I don’t want a lot of people on the A Train. I don’t want a lot of people going on buses to Orchard Beach. I want us to recognize we still have to fight back this disease,” de Blasio said. “We don’t want to take away from our local communities. Hundreds of thousands of people live in those communities. We don’t want to take away their right to walk on that beach, but again, if we start to see abuse of that, we’re going to take tougher measures.”

Looking ahead, the city is preparing for the possibility of opening the beaches to swimming sometime later this summer. The process to hire returning lifeguards began this week, allowing them to start taking the qualification test and CPR, or setting up appointments to train in pools, which have been closed since March. No start date for lifeguards has been set, but the city says lifeguards will be trained and ready to staff the beaches when de Blasio says they can.

In a virtual Community Board 14 meeting, Queens Parks Commissioner Michael Dockett provided some more details about the summer. Beachgoers will notice more signs saying, “Beach closed to swimming” at beach entrances, and enforcement with additional Parks Enforcement Patrol officers, NYPD and school safety officers providing masks on the boardwalk and educating the public about social distancing on the beach and discouraging crowding. Summonses and arrests will not be used to enforce social distancing, but rather verbal persuasion. In some cases, stricter enforcement may be necessary. Surfers will be permitted to access the water on designated surfing beaches. Surf schools will not be permitted to open. All others will be asked to leave the water, much in the same way they are after lifeguards normally go off duty at 6 p.m. Beach chairs, umbrellas, coolers and blankets are allowed. Fishing is allowed in designated sections. To alert the city about beaches being closed to swimming, signs will be posted before local bridges to Rockaway, on highways and potentially on public transportation.

Food services, meaning concessions, are permitted to open, but with several factors in mind including social distancing, masks, simplified menus, to-go service only and more. Rockaway’s boardwalk concessionaires are still trying to navigate these new rules, so the concessions will not be open at this time. Bathroom facilities will be open.

In Riis Park, the National Park Service is looking toward the city for guidance. Like the city beaches, Riis Park will be accessible for passive recreation, such as walking and running. Sports and large gatherings are not permitted. There will be no lifeguards on duty for Memorial Day weekend. According to a federal lifeguard who spoke with The Rockaway Times, they were last told that NPS is looking to have lifeguards in place when city beaches also have lifeguards. However, as federal lifeguards start testing as early as December for the upcoming season, many of the lifeguards are qualified and ready to man the beaches as soon as they’re told. To try to reduce crowds, the Riis Park parking lot will be reduced to 50% capacity. This weekend, fees will not be collected for the lot, but they will resume in June.

The Rockaway Times reached out to those behind Riis Park Beach Bazaar to inquire about concessions but did not receive a response by press time. As of now, the restaurant, The Dropout will continue to serve food and drinks for takeout, as well as the Riis Park Beach Café. Congregating inside or outside of the food providers is prohibited. Limited bathroom facilities will be available.

Please note that all of these requirements are subject to change this summer.

One thing might feel normal this Memorial Day weekend. On Friday, May 22 at noon, Connolly's will be open, although serving piña coladas to go from a table out front.

By Katie McFadden