Facing outcry, Lee agrees to reopen beach - with restrictions

People enjoy the beautiful summer day at Laurel Lake in Lee. Sunday, July 7, 2013. Stephanie Zollshan/Berkshire Eagle Staff.
People enjoy the beautiful summer day at Laurel Lake in Lee. Sunday, July 7, 2013. Stephanie Zollshan/Berkshire Eagle Staff.

LEE — Residents will get to cool off at the town beach this summer after all.

The Select Board has agreed to open Sandy Beach at Laurel Lake, possibly in the next week or two, after town officials finalize the protocol — including a mask mandate — for preventing the spread of the coronavirus among beachgoers.

The board’s unanimous decision at its regular Tuesday meeting followed an hourlong discussion and plea from a dozen townspeople that the beach sorely is needed, given the few summer activities in Lee due to the pandemic.

The Sandy Beach Committee, which oversees maintenance and supervision of the recreational area, had said May 4 that the beach would remain closed because of COVID-19. The beach usually opens in mid-June and closes after Labor Day.

The committee has reversed its decision after dozens of townspeople contacted the panel asking for the beach to reopen, according to committee member Deidre Consolati.

“People really want to get to the beach,” she told the Select Board.

The board’s decision comes amid concern for the health and safety for the dozens of potential beachgoers gathered at once.

“You know what scares … me, 30 people getting sick … and that’s on our shoulders,” said board Chairman David Consolati.

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To ease the fear, Lee/Lenox Chief Administrative Officer Christopher Ketchen says he and other town officials have proposed the following regulations:

• Beachgoers must wear masks, except when in the water;

• Maintain 6 feet of social distancing, with beach blankets/towels for each individual/family 12 feet apart;

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• The bathhouse will remain closed, but a portable toilet will be provided;

• No lifeguards on duty, with monitors at the entrance to track attendance, as no more than 20 cars or 80 people will be allowed at any one time;

• Sandy Beach will be limited to residents and second-home owners; lodging guests and visitors accompanying residents will not be admitted;

• Hours would be from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with the beach closed from 1 to 2 p.m.

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The last two limitations drew the most criticism from several residents and the beach committee. While the beach should “open with care,” committee member Monica Ryan felt that Lee would be doing a disservice to those lodging in town by keeping them off the beach.

Ryan, and others, also want the hours shifted, to noon to 7 p.m., and the hour break eliminated.

“It’s important for people who work that [the beach] be open from 5 to 7 p.m.,” she said.

The town recently reopened its recreational parks and playgrounds and, so far, there have been no issues with mask wearing and social distancing, says Kathy Hall of the Lee Youth Commission.

Hall has been most impressed about the heavily used Lee Athletic Field. She has found that the tennis and basketball courts, picnic pavilion, skateboard park and playground equipment for children of all ages are being used properly, with plenty of adult supervision.

“Parents are with their children. I see that more now than last year,” Hall said. “People know if they don’t follow the guidelines, we’ll close the parks.”

Dick Lindsay can be reached at rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com.


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