Beach ‘closures’ spark outrage in Rhode Island

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NARRAGANSETT, R.I. (AP) – Heading to the beach on a hot summer day is a way of life for residents of the Ocean State, which has 400 miles of coastline. But beachgoers got a surprise Sunday when, overwhelmed by traffic, Rhode Island responded by telling people to turn around and go home – all state beaches were closed.

Beach lovers are incensed that they were given the impression beaches were off-limits, and are wondering what will happen the next time another “perfect beach day” comes along.

Susan Wall, a New Haven, Conn., resident who is renting a house for the month in Narragansett, said that though she made it to the beach Sunday, her teenage son was turned away when he tried to arrive separately.

“I’ve seen it crowded, but I never thought they would refuse people like that,” said Wall, 54, who returned to busy Scarborough Beach on Monday and sat in the shade with her family. “It just wasn’t fair. It’s not right.”

With temperatures in the 90s and blue skies, thousands of people decided it was an ideal day for the beach. By the early afternoon, the crowds were unprecedented.

Traffic was gridlocked, and jammed up as far as 15 miles away.

Local officials became concerned about emergency vehicle access, prompting the Department of Environmental Management to warn motorists that there was simply no room for them to park and barely any sand for them to sit on.

“It was just blanket-to-blanket on the beach, and you could see the cars all the way back,” Wall said, pointing towards Ocean Road, the only roadway that runs through that area.

But confusion ensued when electronic message boards posted along state roadways Sunday afternoon read “All Rhode Island state beaches closed” for more than an hour before they were changed to “RI state beach lots full.”

Officials scrambled Monday to explain why residents and beachgoers were led to believe they were not allowed at the beaches.

Larry Mouradjian, associate director of Natural Resource Management at the Department of Environmental Management, said the state has never closed all its beaches simultaneously, and DEM officials didn’t mean to post any message to that effect.

But he said parking lots were full and it was necessary to warn people, especially since the crowd already on the beach “was not eager to leave.”

“When they come with coolers and chairs, you know they’re staying for a while,” Mouradjian said.

Mike Maynard, spokesman for Gov. Don Carceri, said Monday that crowded beaches are par for the course, especially at the time drivers were turned away.

“If you’re going to the beach at 1 in the afternoon, you’re looking for trouble,” he said.

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