COVID-19

As Memorial Day weekend arrives, expect a different type of summer on the North Fork this year

Local beaches with no out-of-town residents. A strawberry season with no festival. Mitchell Park with no dancing. 

The summer season of 2020 could shape up to be unlike any in recent memory.

Officials at the state and local levels have introduced a number of new policies and guidelines specifically for beaches as the unofficial start of the season begins this weekend with Memorial Day.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced last week that ahead of Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start to summer, state beaches will open Friday.

It’s part of a coordinated effort with neighboring states to prevent New Yorkers from traveling to beaches in Connecticut, New Jersey or Delaware over the holiday weekend.

 “You will see people flock” to open beaches, Mr. Cuomo said Friday, which could have public health impacts. “It’s not in New York’s interests to have New Yorkers go to a New Jersey beach, which is going to be crowded.”

Under the governor’s plan, the number of beach visitors will be limited to 50% usual capacity, no group activities such as volleyball will be allowed and picnic areas, playgrounds, pavilions and concessions must remain closed.

The Nassau/Suffolk Towns’ Summer Operations Task Force released policies this week that each town supervisor worked together to establish to coordinate “syncing the timing of beach, park and facilities openings as much as feasible” and to “ensure that variation between towns does not lead to a surge in crowding at one location, due to closure at another.”

County beaches

In Suffolk County, officials are preparing to open Smith Point County Park and Cupsogue Beach County Park to Suffolk County residents only by Memorial Day. Other county beaches will open later in June.

County Executive Steve Bellone said it would be “unrealistic” to expect people to stay away from beaches on warm, sunny days. “It is far better for us to develop a specific plan with safety protocols in place that allows us to proactively plan for and open in a safe manner,” he said at a briefing Friday.

“Beaches are a part of the fabric of life on Long Island,” Mr. Bellone added. “This virus has taken much from us — we can’t allow it to take our ability to go to the beaches this summer.”

Masks will be required in public areas including boardwalks, stairways and restrooms, but not while on the beach or in the water. Social distancing from anyone outside of your household is also recommended.

Lifeguards on county beaches, Mr. Bellone said, would also be spaced out accordingly, in line with social distancing guidelines.

Mr. Bellone said it will be up to towns and villages to decide whether to open their municipal beaches.

Southold Town, Greenport Village beaches

In late April, Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said parking at town beach facilities would be limited to those with town stickers only. He wrote in an email Friday that town beaches have remained open for passive use.

“The current restriction to residents only is still in place but gets reviewed every few days. Swimming is no longer prohibited but we cannot staff beaches with lifeguards or open the bathroom facilities,” Mr. Russell said. 

He added that the state’s capacity requirements aren’t feasible for Southold Town. “If we are required to cut our parking capacity in half, it would effectively eliminate use for most people. Parking is scarce as it is now,” the supervisor noted.

At a meeting earlier this month, the Southold Town Board adopted a resolution to hire five traffic control officers that are usually needed for Memorial Day weekend.

Mr. Russell said Monday that the officers were hired to help with enforcing COVID-19 restrictions.

Greenport Village Mayor George Hubbard Jr. said Tuesday that Fifth Street beach remains open to village residents only. The village does not typically begin placing a lifeguard on duty until the end of June, Mr. Hubbard said.

In Southampton Town, Sagg Main in Sagaponack, Long Beach in Noyac and Ponquogue Beach in Hampton Bays will be open starting Saturday, with lifeguards and parking attendants on weekends. Officials noted that restrooms will be open and concessions will offer only takeout items, with picnic tables and benches removed.

Both residential and nonresidential yearly permits will be available at the three beaches, which will not be selling daily permits.

While officials hope beaches provide a sense of normalcy for Long Islanders, other summer traditions remain in limbo.

Riverhead Town beaches

Riverhead Town beaches remain open for “passive use,” and face masks should be used when social distancing is not possible, officials said.

The Riverhead Recreation Department began selling 2020 beach stickers to residents only over the weekend, with long, socially-distanced lines at the recreation office at Stotzky Park.

Stickers will be available at the recreation office again Saturday, May 23, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. as well as at South Jamesport and Wading River town beaches from Saturday to Monday between 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Residents can also purchase stickers online via the Viply app and receive their sticker by mail.

Riverhead police said last week that town beaches will be monitored by a police officer or traffic control officer from noon to 8 p.m. on weekends. Officers will be monitoring for proper social distancing and recommended use of personal protective equipment, if available. “Voluntary compliance is the ultimate goal to keep everyone safe and allow the beaches to remain open,” last week’s press release said.

Officials said lifeguards will be on duty at Riverhead Town beaches starting June 27.

Attractions and events

Splish Splash in Riverhead, originally set to open May 23, has pushed off its opening day. “While it’s too soon to confidently provide an opening date, we remain committed to opening Splish Splash this summer as soon as safely possible,” a spokesperson for the water park said recently. “Our highest priority remains the safety of all of our team members and guests. We will continue to closely follow the guidelines set forth by federal, state and local government officials and health experts as we prepare to resume operations.”

According to Mr. Cuomo’s plan, arts, entertainment and recreational businesses will not be permitted to reopen until the final reopening phase.

In a Facebook post Monday, Splish Splash announced that 2020 season passes have been extended to be valid through the end of their 2021 season.

Plans for the annual Mattituck Lions Strawberry Festival have also been altered in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. Organizers announced earlier this month that a drive-through strawberry daiquiri and shortcake festival will be held in lieu of the traditional festival to keep the traditions alive.

It’s also unlikely that the monthly First Friday fair on Love Lane will return this year. “Under the current executive order from the state and CDC’s recommendations, trying to host such a gathering is not in the best interest of public health or safety,” Mattituck Chamber of Commerce president Dave Perrin said Tuesday. “We are looking forward to another great season in 2021.”

The Riverhead Business Improvement District had already planned to reduce the number of Alive on 25 events this year from four to two. Now, it’s unclear if the popular street festival will return at all this year. 

While those events have not yet been canceled, BID executive director Kristy Verity said the first one, slated for July 2, would not go on as it has in years past. She added that other events planned for later this summer must be in line with which “phase” of the state plan applies at the time. 

“Collectively, we are brainstorming new ideas to see if there is a way to restructure the event while adhering to guidelines of the reopening phase that we are in at that time,” Ms. Verity said.

Those ideas include closing Main Street to add more outdoor dining spaces and picnic areas. “The theme is ‘al fresco’ for the time being,” she said. “We are hoping that by August we may continue hosting our Cardboard Boat Race, Oktoberfest and late summer and fall events to deliver community-wide fun after all this time at home.”

The popular Monday night Dances in the Park concert series in Greenport’s Mitchell Park may also face cancellations due to the health crisis.

While no official decision has been made yet, Mr. Hubbard said he expects the issue to be discussed at a work session Thursday night.

“It’s not looking good right now for large gatherings,” he said Tuesday. “We’re not going to be there by July 6,” which is when the first event had been scheduled.

As reopening begins, village officials must strike a balance between public safety and the economic impacts in an area so dependent on tourist dollars. Village officials are working with the Business Improvement District on ideas to move forward through the summer.

“We need to keep the businesses vibrant. They employ local people, it’s part of our economy,” Mr. Hubbard said. “But we need to [reopen] slowly and safely.”