The crowds were somewhat expected at local beaches over the Memorial Day weekend, after several weeks of stay-at-home orders prompted by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
What they left behind, though, has taken many local residents by surprise.
Photos taken at Cedar Beach County Park in Southold show throngs of fishermen crowding the shoreline, few of them observing the social distancing and mask guidelines put in place due to COVID-19.
Even some who wore masks discarded them on the beach, along with other litter: dirty diapers, empty beer cans and fishing equipment.
“I get it, people want to get out of their homes,” said Southold resident Mark Miller, who was disheartened by what he found along the beach Monday evening as the crowds dispersed. “I’m a tolerant person, but the lack of respect for the community has gone off the deep end.”
Mr. Miller reported seeing tents pitched on the beach and people defecating outside, as well as a food truck and kayak rental truck operating illegally in the parking lot. Though county parks were supposed to be open to county residents only, many vehicles parked in the lot reportedly had license plate brackets from Queens, Brooklyn, Connecticut and even New Jersey.
Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) said Tuesday that officials are aware of the issues and working together to address them.
“Two weeks ago we had a big problem with garbage there,” Mr. Krupski said. “[County Parks Commissioner Jason Smagin] sent someone right away Monday morning to clean up. But that’s not the answer, just cleaning up the garbage.”
According to Mr. Krupski, a beach attendant has been hired to staff a booth at Cedar Beach as early as this coming weekend. He’s urging the commissioner to post the attendant at the park seven days a week, since crowding has persisted even during the week.
Mr. Krupski also said signs will be posted in county parks reminding people to stay six feet apart, not leave trash behind and alerting visitors that there are no on-site bathrooms. Portable toilets have been discussed, he said, though no decision has been made on placing them at the beach. Bathroom facilities in other local parks have remained closed amid the pandemic.
“We need to make sure not only that [beachgoers] are county residents, but that they’re following basic rules,” Mr. Krupski said. “People go, abuse it and use the beach as a bathroom and garbage dump.”
Visitors will be encouraged to follow the carry-in-carry-out guidelines for their trash. “A lot of national parks do that,” Mr. Krupski said.
Southold police responded to Cedar Beach at least twice over the holiday weekend, according to this week’s blotter report. An anonymous person called police around 1 a.m. Saturday to report loud music and crowds at the park, prompting a response from both Southold officers and Suffolk County park rangers.
A police report noted that there were approximately 100 fishermen on the beach, all of whom were asked to leave. “A correlation is needed between the Suffolk County Parks, Southold Town P.D. and the Cornell Cooperative Extension for locking the gate, enforcement of the county rules and regulations and the maintenance of the beach before the situation gets any worse,” the police report said.
Hours later, around 6 a.m. Saturday, a man called police to report vehicles blocking the boat ramp at the beach. Six vehicles were ticketed, and officers cleared the beach of “over 50 people who were fishing…and were not Suffolk County residents.”
Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley said Tuesday afternoon that the problem has persisted for several weeks. “The fishermen started to show up here when the porgy season started off,” he said, adding that those ticketed have addresses in Nassau County and the boroughs.
“There are sometimes upwards of 100 to 150 people on the beach—and there are no bathrooms down there, so they’re using the weeds and wetlands as their bathrooms, leaving dead fish and garbage behind. We’re getting lots of complaints about it,” the chief said.
In teams of three or four officers, police have responded to the beach several times in recent weeks to check for county IDs, fishing licenses and for undersized fish, which has cleared crowds, but often just shifted them to other area beaches.
Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said Tuesday that the resident-only policy also doesn’t address guests, which presents issues. He acknowledged that the beach has been an ongoing problem area that attracts non-residents. “It was a much larger crowd this weekend,” he said. “It has been abused by careless and disrespectful users.”
Mr. Russell said that despite added patrols, the town cannot enforce its own restrictions in the county park. “We just don’t have the luxury of assigning someone there all day,” he said.
The crowding at Cedar Beach isn’t an anomaly. Over the weekend, Southold police responded to at least a dozen other calls about beaches spanning the North Fork reporting crowds, illegally parked vehicles, fishermen and bonfires. “Any possible place you could think of for fishing, we’re being inundated right now,” the chief said. “It’s tough to keep up with.”
Over the weekend, Chief Flatley said, approximately 45 fishing violations and 365 parking tickets were issued.
“This is happening to a lot of different town and county beaches everywhere,” Mr. Krupski said, acknowledging that while it’s important to get outside, beach visitors should be respectful. “It’s important to get that break with nature, for your physical and mental health. But it’s not just a free for all because you’re at the beach.”
Mr. Miller, who frequently walks the beach, said the influx of visitors have shown a “general disregard” for appropriate behavior. He welcomed the idea of a beach attendant, but fears people may be tempted to park in the residential areas and walk up to the park.
“Something is better than nothing,” he concluded. “I want people to enjoy the beach—and people need a release in these challenging times, but it’s gross and disgusting [at Cedar Beach.]”
Mr. Russell shares those concerns and said beach parking permits aren’t sufficient enough, and called for town officials to develop a way to regulate people accessing town beaches. “We can designate as many areas as we can as “parking by permit only” but, people always find a place to park even if in inappropriate areas and have shown a willingness to walk very far to get to a beach,” he said, noting that those situations and drop-offs puts a strain on the town’s beach facilities.
“It might seem over-regulatory or demonstrate a lack of hospitality but, I think our seasonal and year-round residents will agree that we need to go farther,” Mr. Russell said.