Long Time No Sea

As the weather gets warmer, people all over New England typically flock to the beaches. Because of the pandemic and the restrictions the state has put on public places, your trip to the beach will look a little different this year.

As of March 28th, all NH beaches were closed to the public. Since then, Governor Sununu decided to open all NH beaches on June 1st, a decision that was finally made a reality on May 22nd. When NH beaches do open, the state has issued guidelines for residents, making all beaches open for walking, swimming, and surfing only. Parking will also be limited at NH beaches, with the hope that this will control the amount of people on the beach. While the NH beaches were closed as a result of national safety guidelines due to COVID-19, many individuals find it frustrating to stay away from the beach as the weather gets warmer.

When addressing the question of when NH beaches would open at a press conference on May 18th, Governor Sununu said, “If we can get open by June 1st, I think that’s a goal, but it’s not a promise by any means.” Since this message, Sununu has made the decision to reopen NH beaches on June 1st with new guidelines to keep residents safe. Sununu said that parks and beaches are meant to be open for NH residents only, and that other New England residents should stay in their own states. Places like Hampton Beach have even reconstructed their original flow of traffic and parking to accommodate the social distancing guidelines. 

A new Hampton Beach reopening plan has been accepted, meaning that the beach will open with modifications on June 1st. This plan is meant to relocate the parking for beach-goers in an attempt to minimize and control the amount of people at the beach. The entirety of Ocean Boulevard and the Hampton strip will be closed to parking. “We’re effectively making Ocean Boulevard a giant sidewalk, if you will,” Sununu said in another press conference on May 22nd, addressing the opening of beaches on June 1st. 

Not only will the strip be closed to parking, but all traffic as well, allowing for businesses to use this area. Instead, the parking will be relocated to behind Ocean Boulevard in an attempt to cut beach parking by 50%, according to “Hampton Beach businesses draft plans to reopen for summer,” by Andy Hershberger. 

Owen Fleischer (‘21) works as a lifeguard at Hampton Beach during the summer. Now that Hampton Beach is ready to open, things won’t exactly be going back to normal on June 1st. Fleischer helped to paint a better picture of what your typical beach day may look like now saying, “As of right now, [when NH beaches open] the state said that patrons have to either be walking on the beach or swimming in the water. They can’t set up towels and chairs and hang out on the sand.” Rules pertaining social distancing set by the state parks will be enforced by local police once the beaches open.

Acadia Manning (‘21) lives in both NH and MA. Manning surfs and enjoys spending summers on the beach. When it comes to opening Hampton Beach, she has her concerns, but also believes that there could be some positives to opening. “I’m guessing that having Hampton Beach open will get out of hand pretty quick. It’s a huge tourist destination, but on the other hand, having beaches open in both MA and NH might be a good thing. With more beaches open there’ll be more places [for residents] to go and hang out. I just hope that as the beaches open, people take precautions and think of it as a gift and a blessing, and not something to take advantage of,” said Manning. 

While the Hampton plan and beach restrictions may keep the numbers down at the beach, there are still summer tourists that come from all over the New England area. The Governor is advising people to stay in their own states, that may not stop people who have homes in NH or even a trip planned for the summer. 

The new parking method should keep a lid on how many people are at the beach at one time, but places like Hampton are still at risk. “The fact that we are [around] 20 minutes from Massachusetts and Maine means we really have to think about their actions before we take our own. I know that Salisbury Beach (MA) has been open since the start of quarantine and at least Long and Short Sands just opened up in York (ME),” said Fleischer. “The NH beaches get so much tourism specifically from Massachusetts and Quebec. I think if [Governor Sununu] is smart about it, it won’t be a problem. But if it’s a free for all, [like if] Hampton Beach has people shoulder to shoulder on hot summer days, that could be an absolute petri dish.”

While people may find it hard to stay at home as the weather gets warmer, Sununu offered some summer activities NH residents can participate in that don’t include a day at the beach. Sununu said: “Given the nice weather… my recommendation is, enjoy some [time] with your family, enjoy the home hike challenge — there’s still a lot of activities to be done outdoors even though our amusements and attractions aren’t open,” he said. “We’re not telling people they cannot come out of their door by any means, but you’re healthier at home. We’re still under a stay-at-home order.”

At this point, NH residents have been advised to stay home since the first Stay at Home order issued on March 26th. Manning hasn’t been to her house in Plum Island, MA, but is in contact with her father and brother who are experiencing firsthand what it’s like to be living on a beach open to the public right now. “As someone who lives on a beach in Massachusetts, it hasn’t been a huge problem. I know that my dad and my brother have been out surfing a lot and they say that it’s been pretty sparse, but then again, the water is still freezing. I haven’t gotten much of a chance to get out to the beach, but I’m definitely blessed to be able to even have access to one,” Manning explained. 

Like the rules in Maine, Massachusetts patrons must constantly be moving when on the beach. This same rule will apply to NH beaches once they open. Manning adds, “Where my dad lives (Plum Island, MA), the parking lots are closed so people are parking miles away from the beach and biking [there]. This definitely is reducing the crowds in the lots. From what I hear, there are tons of officers posted and it looks like they have a good idea of what they’re doing.”

Aidan Janetos (‘21) has been surfing since he was 8 years old, and enjoys surfing all year long. “The last day that the NH beaches were legally open we got a big swell, so I surfed then,” explained Janetos. Even after the NH beaches closed, Janetos continued to find ways to keep surfing. “The day after [the swell] we had some leftover waves, so I headed down to Salisbury, MA, which is just over the border. I saw a lot of the Hampton surfers there. I did that for a few weeks, and kept seeing lots of guys from Hampton, but it’s a long beach so everyone mostly stayed spread out. This past Monday though, Maine opened its beaches to [the use of walking] and surfing. So now I have been going to York and Ogunquit, and have been seeing the usual Maine crowd out there, but everyone stays pretty spread out which is good to see,” Janetos said. (Read more about Janetos and other local surfers in my article, “Oyster River Surfing Community.”) 

Things are definitely looking up for people like Janetos, as he and other surfers will be able to enjoy the NH beaches for sport. While the opening date of NH beaches has been decided, the NH government and parks are working hard to make sure that when they open, the safety of the residents can be ensured. Fleischer explained what to expect starting June 1st at NH beaches. “From the way it’s looking, beach goers can expect to spend more time on the pavement or looking for parking spots than on the sand.”

Artwork by Madla Walsh