Gooch’s Beach in Kennebunk prior to closure of the town’s beaches in early April. Most Kennebunk beaches will open on Friday, with restrictions. Tammy Wells photo

KENNEBUNK — Those who long for the sea and the beach will get their wish, starting Friday, May 15, in Kennebunk.

Gooch’s, Middle and Mother’s beaches will open to the public with a number of restrictions, including social distancing, wearing a mask when that isn’t possible, and refraining from loitering, gathering or playing games on the beach and sidewalks.

Swimming and surfing are permitted, and dogs are permitted on the beach and adjacent sidewalks, but must be on a leash. The rules ban personal seating like beach chairs, and fitness classes are not permitted on the beach or sidewalks. Benches and portable toilets won’t be installed.

Parson’s Beach will remain closed — a tree replanting project is ongoing there, said Select Board Chair Blake Baldwin.

Gooch’s, Middle and Mother’s beaches were reopened to the public, with a number of restrictions, on May 15. Dan King photo

The Select Board also voted separately to open the town’s parks at the town manager’s discretion, though playgrounds will remain closed because they cannot be sanitized, Select Board members said. Those using the parks must maintain social distancing, use face coverings when that isn’t possible, refrain from loitering, gathering in groups or play games that violate social distancing guidelines.

The beaches have been closed since April 8, and driving along Beach Avenue has been open only to local traffic. Select Board members two weeks ago contemplated opening just the roadway, but keep parking, sidewalks and the beach off limits. They were to discuss that option on Tuesday, May 12, but that plan changed in the interim.

The recommendation to open the beaches came from a focus group of the town’s Community Reengagement Task Force that included Baldwin, Police Chief Robert MacKenzie, Fire Chief Jeff Rowe, Public Services Director Brian Laverriere, Budget Board member Richard Morin and resident Amanda Batson,

There was brief discussion of a June 1 opening, but the motion for May 15 had already been made and seconded, and after a lengthy discussion, Select Board members cast their votes. The vote tally was 5-2, with Select Board members Shiloh Schulte and Wayne Berry dissenting.

Schulte said he was struggling with the timing.

“The fundamentals of the COVID crisis have not changed since the stay-at-home order,” said Schulte, noting that for the most part, the number of new cases per day has not declined. “It’s premature, we’re not at the end of the curve; I think this is not the time to do this.”

“Imagine when we have our beaches open and Massachusetts and New Hampshire beaches aren’t,” he said.

Select Board member Frank Paul said he appreciates and respects that decisions are made to keep people safe.

“I understand them, I don’t like them,” he said.

Paul said the quality of life is suffering, and quoted an article he read that pointed out that people practicing social distancing outdoors, in parks, on beaches, hiking, cycling or walking, is better than being in a crowded supermarket. “I’m a huge proponent of opening the beaches as soon as we can,” Paul said.

“It’s tough call,” said Select Board member William Ward. “We’re kind of rushing to do this … but all I can say is if we go ahead, make sure people socially distance, and (have) staff at high tide to keep people following social distancing.”

MacKenzie said the police department would continue to use educational methods surrounding social distancing. He said the department’s School Resource Officers — who are not at school because buildings aren’t open, and a Community Service Officer would take duty at the beach.

“We have to put some trust into our customers,” said Rowe. “If they want (the beach) back, they will follow the rules.”

“I’m very comfortable with opening the beaches,” said Select Board member Ed Karytko.

The town of Wells opened its beaches to walking, swimming, surfing and fishing earlier this week, and York officials told the Portland Press Herald it will allow active use of the town beaches – walking, running, fishing and surfing – as part of a “soft opening” on May 18.

Ward said he’s already seen signs of civil disobedience, with people walking the beach, even though it remains closed.

“It’s like a pressure cooker, (we) can only keep the lid on so long,” Ward said.

Berry said he’d hoped for a more phased approach, opening the road first, and then the sidewalks and beach later.

Some residents suggested limiting access to residents only.

“I’m not sure if we approve this, it will be the most rational thing ever done, but we’ve done emotional decisions before,” said Baldwin. He said he too preferred  a phased approach.

The vote sealed the beach decision with the May 15 opening.

The vote to open the parks, at the town manager’s discretion, was unanimous.

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