HAMPTON — Frank Pattelena and buddy Chad Cunningham got a big surprise when they showed up at Hampton Beach on Tuesday with plans to spend time on the sand.
The Nashua friends thought the beach would be open by now, but found that it’s still off-limits and will remain closed at least through the rest of May under the governor’s order.
They said they don’t see a need to keep the beach closed at this point, especially when a coronavirus hotspot like Massachusetts is planning to reopen beaches on Memorial Day.
“People don’t get that close to each other on the beach anyway. What does it accomplish? Everybody has their own little place,” said the 25-year-old Pattelena.
But that’s not the way state and local officials see it.
Concern about the thousands of visitors who flock to the beach during the late spring and summer months has prompted officials to take a more cautious approach. That includes a proposed traffic pattern change that could go into effect soon if approved by the state Department of Transportation.
Parking along the beach has been prohibited for several weeks to keep crowds away, but under the proposal, 50% of the parking would be opened up, with parking along the town’s side streets limited to residents only.
The proposal also calls for shutting down a section of busy Ocean Boulevard to create a “walking mall” and detouring traffic onto Ashworth Avenue. The change would mean part of Ashworth Avenue, which is one way, would become a two-way street to allow traffic to head north.
The change poses logistical challenges for officials, but it’s something that Police Chief Richard Sawyer thinks will work. He also serves as the town’s emergency management director.
The plan for the “walking mall” would give restaurants along Ocean Boulevard an opportunity to expand their outside dining; customers are not allowed to eat inside under the governor’s order.
“A number of restaurants are looking to come out, so we’ll let them come out a little bit out into the street so they can get more because, let’s face it, they’re struggling and we want to try to help them the most we can,” Sawyer said.
While some restaurants and businesses have begun to reopen, Hampton Beach looks different this year.
“It’s like a ghost town,” said Heather Cyr, 42, of Chelmsford, Mass.
Cyr used to live near the beach and returned for a visit Tuesday. She said the beach should be reopened.
“I think people are doing a good job keeping their distance,” she said.
Her boyfriend, Brian Benton, 44, also of Chelmsford, agreed that it’s time to get the beach open.
“I think it’s silly. It’s outside fresh air,” he said.
Even when the beach opens, Sawyer said visitors wouldn’t be allowed to sit and congregate like they would under normal circumstances.
Hampton resident Glenn Peters, 79, said he understands the need to eventually reopen the beach to help the businesses, but he’s concerned about the influx of beachgoers and the potential for the coronavirus to spread.
“I like it like it is,” he said, adding that he doesn’t mind the beach being closed and deserted right now.
Peters said he worries that visitors, especially from other states, will not follow social-distancing rules.
“Other states have had worse problems than we have (with the coronavirus). Hampton has done pretty good. I hate to see it ruined by bringing all these people in,” he said.