The unofficial close of summer, Labor Day, is still two weeks away but many local town beaches are already closing for the season.
Sunday was the last day for lifeguards and sunbathers at town beaches in Methuen, Andover and North Andover, and more across the Merrimack Valley in Haverhill and Windham, Derry and Salem, New Hampshire are slated to close before the end of the month.
New Hampshire beaches tended to stay open a little later than those in the Bay State, but the recreation directors in every city and town pegged their closing dates on the same issue: high school and college students going back to school.
“We’d like to stay open a little longer, but we just don’t have the staffing to do so especially with the lifeguards, that’s the main reason,” said Bill Pare, Methuen’s recreation director. “We have discussed it, it’s just a matter of, it’s very difficult to get lifeguards.”
Forest Lake closed its gates at the end of the day on Sunday, ushering in a new school year that begins next week.
In Andover and North Andover, the sentiments were similar.
Kim Stamas, the director of recreation in Andover, said she’s tried to keep Pomps Pond open until Labor Day before, but to no avail.
“We’ve tried it several times and what happens is, the kids promise you that they’ll stay, but when push comes to shove, they don’t,” she said, adding that she only managed to stay open later in the season once and only for a week.
“It’s just a fact,” she said. “You lose everybody.”
In North Andover, Rick Gorman, the director of youth and recreation services, said he thinks it “makes sense” to close the beach as early as they do, because it aligns with the end of the town’s summer programs; but he added that schools are starting much earlier than they used to not to mention high school sports pre-season training taking teenage lifeguards away from their posts earlier.
“When I was a young kid, nobody did anything before Labor Day. That’s obviously changed over the last years,” he said.
Haverhill’s beach is open later than its neighbors: Plug Pond will likely be guarded until Aug. 29. When asked if the city ever considered staying open with its high school staff, on weekends or after school as some New Hampshire towns have considered, Recreation Director Vinny Ouellette said “the danger” of weekend-only hours is “everyone assumes if it’s open on the weekend, it’s open during the week.”
“They’re gonna go in no matter what. There’s no lifeguard on duty, there’s sanitary issues, there’s safety issues and so forth,” he said.
Beaches in Derry and Salem boasted late closing dates Aug. 27 and 28, respectively but Windham will only have lifeguards until the end of day Tuesday. Recreation Director Cheryl Haas said it’s the last day she has enough of a staff to patrol the water.
Unlike many Massachusetts beaches, however, the parks in the Granite State are still open to the public after the lifeguards turn in; but the directors there also expressed a desire to keep lifeguards around later.
“We would love to stay open til Labor Day, but we’re still trying to work out last minute details to see if we’d have any staff available,” said Eric Bodenrader, director of Derry Parks and Recreation. He said Gallien’s Town Beach will most likely close Aug. 27.
“It’s safe to say it’s an uphill battle,” Bodenrader added.
Bodenrader, Pare and Salem Recreation Coordinator Doug Cole said they’ve struggled in recent years to find enough lifeguards even for the height of the summer.
Cole said that for the first time this year, the Board of Selectmen changed the town’s policies, adding signs at Hedgehog Park that advise swimmers take a dip at their own risk when lifeguards aren’t present. Only four lifeguards worked that beach this year, which Cole called a “typical” amount.
Bodenrader said there is a “definite shortage of certified lifeguards” in New Hampshire, and suggested it could be because certification is both time consuming and expensive, costing up to $400.
“I know it’s definitely a deterrent for a 16-year-old to go take the Red Cross certification class,” Bodenrader said.
Despite the many recreation directors who said they wished they could keep their beaches open, most admitted that about late August, the beaches start to clear out anyway, as students prepare to head back to the classroom.
“I wish I could keep it open, but at the same time, it’s really not that busy,” said Haas, of Windham. “All of a sudden, it’s like, ‘I’m not going to the beach anymore.'”
But Haas said coincidentally, she’s not surprised Tuesday’s forecast is hot a muggy.
“Whenever we close the beach, it’s the hottest day,” she said.
Beach Closings by Town
Andover Aug. 20
Haverhill Aug. 29 (tentative)
Methuen Aug. 20
North Andover Aug. 20
Derry Aug. 27 (tentative)
Salem Aug. 28
Windham Aug. 22
Read this article:
Staffing issues blamed for early beach closures – Eagle-Tribune