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It wasn’t much of a beach day anyway, with fierce winds and chilly showers throughout the day yesterday, as state and local officials began parking bans at parks, beaches and even Newport’s Cliff Walk to enforce “social distancing” rules to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Entrances to lots at Newport’s Easton’s Beach were barricaded, and cones lined up along a portion of Memorial Boulevard to prevent cars from parking in metered spaces that in happier times are prized by swimmers and surfers because they offer convenient and bargain-priced access to the beach.
At Fort Adams State Park in Newport, an Environmental Police truck with lights flashing guarded the road to parking lots, which dog walkers, hikers and joggers use as starting points to a long path around the fortress that in the summer serves as a backdrop to the Newport Folk and Jazz Festivals.
Farther south on Ocean Drive, a few motorists found places to park in several natural cutouts near Brenton Point State Park, which provides some of Rhode Island’s most spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean and lower reaches of Narragansett Bay.
Entrances to Brenton Point parking lots were blocked with barriers and signs explaining the closure is due to COVID-19. In normal times those parking lots serve as something of an oceanside drive-in movie theater for visitors who watch powerful waves break across jagged rocks.
But several die-hard fans of this soothing nature show maneuvered their cars in unpaved areas along Ocean Drive to again face the ocean, determined not to miss the latest chapters of the ancient clash of sea against land.
In fact, both local and state officials are not banishing people from their favorite natural areas, only trying to make it impractical for most people to get to them – as a way of enforcing “social distance” guidelines that limit groups to five or fewer people and ask people to stay six feet from one another.
“DEM is not prohibiting Rhode Islanders from walking or riding bikes at parks and beaches if they are not congregated in groups of five or more and are adhering to social/physical distancing rules to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” according to a statement issued by the state Department of Environmental Management.
But the statement warned: “DEM will be patrolling these sites and dispersing groups of people.”
Governor Giana Raimondo on April 1 announced that she would close state beaches and parks because the previous weekend those areas, particularly parks closer to Providence, served as meeting grounds for large crowds.
Leading health experts say that without a cure or vaccine, the newly discovered and highly contagious virus can be foiled only when people keep their distance from one another, to avoid droplets containing the virus from spreading when someone coughs, sneezes or even talks.
Raimondo provided several days for the parking restrictions to begin, giving residents and beach and park staffers time to prepare for the changes.
The following day, Newport and Middletown followed suit, saying they would curb parking at many of their acclaimed recreation spots, including Easton’s or First Beach in Newport and Sachuest or Second Beach in Middletown. Also curbed was parking on streets leading to Newport’s 3.5-mile Cliff Walk.
“Restricting access to public places where any groups might gather, such as parks and beaches, is a necessary step we’re taking to protect public health,” said DEM Director Janet Coit.
“During this critical time when we all must practice social distancing,” Coit said in a written statement, “I encourage Rhode Islanders to enjoy the outdoors close to home by taking a walk around the block or spending time in their backyards and to respect the closure and stay away from state parks and beaches.”
Among areas on Aquidneck Island and Jamestown that DEM said are affected by the parking ban:
- Brenton Point State Park, Newport
- Fort Adams State Park, Newport
- Purgatory Chasm, Middletown
- Black Regiment Monument, Portsmouth
- Lehigh High Grove, Portsmouth
- Beavertail State Park, Jamestown
- Fort Wetherill State Park, Jamestown