LACONIA — Amid fears about growing weekend crowds at Weirs Beach and the health risk posed by expected large numbers of visitors for Motorcycle Week, the town’s police chief said the 97th rally should be canceled.
“It’s going to present some hardships,” Police Chief Matt Canfield said this week. “I don’t think it is the thing to do this year.”
Concerns over weekend crowds at Weirs Beach spilled over into the city council’s conversation about Motorcycle Week, scheduled for Aug. 22-30.
“We are drawing people to the Weirs and encouraging big crowds. Why are we doing it?” Canfield said.
Charlie St. Clair, executive director of the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association, said he supports the council’s July 13 decision not to have vendors or beer tents at the rally, but he pointed out that recent crowds waiting to get on to Weirs Beach have been large.
“I don’t know what we are picking and choosing to be concerned about up at the Weirs,” St. Clair told the council Monday.
Canfield on Wednesday acknowledged that during peak beach times last weekend, people waited as long as 3 1/2 hours to stake their spots on the sand. Other families headed to Bartlett Beach or Ahern State Park on Lake Winnisquam, which created crowding there.
In response, the department worked with Laconia Parks and Recreation Director Amy Lovisek, Canfield said.
The 400-person limit on Weirs Beach, which has a normal capacity of 2,200, was increased to 1,000, the chief said.
During the council’s Monday meeting, St. Clair said he favors using the same traffic pattern as the past 27 years, which makes Lakeside Avenue one-way.
Motorcyclists can enter from the iconic flashing neon Weirs Beach sign and exit out Watson Road to the intersection of Route 3, which is controlled by a traffic light. In past years, motorcycles also have been allowed to park on the center line of Lakeside Avenue.
Canfield said he opposes center-line parking this year, because it encourages crowds to congregate and admire the bikes.
City Manager Scott Myers said a final decision on the traffic pattern will be made with input from Laconia Motorcycle Week Association, public safety officials and local businesses.
The city council voted unanimously July 13 to allow the rally but reserved the right to cancel if COVID-19 infection data from the state Department of Public Health indicate an increased risk.
Canfield is not alone in his concerns about the wisdom of hosting an event that will attract visitors from areas experiencing high infection rates.
In neighboring Meredith, Superintendent Mary Moriarty told the Inter-Lakes School Board during a Monday night work session that consideration should be given to scheduling the in-person start date for schools until Sept. 14, two weeks after Bike Week.
The delay would give school leaders time to see whether COVID-19 infections have spiked because of the large number of visitors to the area. The later start would affect working families and reduce learning time for students, Moriarty said.