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Beaches prepare for summer crowds amid pandemic

Minnesotans know the importance of embracing summer days when they get the chance. One summer staple is the beach.

This year the COVID-19 pandemic has left its mark on every facet of recreation, causing some beaches to close, and others to open with precaution.

Clayhole Beach at Firemen’s Park in Chaska and SandVenture Aquatic Park in Shakopee are a couple of the beaches to shut down for the season.

Meanwhile, the Carver County Board of Commissioners agreed to reopen beaches at Lake Minnewashta and Baylor regional parks on June 2. The board will consider reopening Lake Waconia Regional Park, currently closed, when construction is completed.

Carver County Parks and Recreation Director Marty Walsh said that the reopening of the beaches was based on two conditions: guests need to be social distancing and sanitary measures must be monitored.

To implement social distancing, Walsh said that picnic tables will be spaced farther apart, along with signs placed around the beach, encouraging guests to keep at least six feet from others.

Along with social distancing awareness and implementation, starting June 13 from noon to 6 p.m., Lake Minnewashta Regional Park will have a gated attendant to tell visitors if the beach is at full capacity.

The attendants will only work Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays. Walsh said they will communicate with the lifeguard, present seven days a week, to tell visitors if the picnic tables and parking lots are at full capacity.

So far, the virus hasn’t stopped visitors from coming out and cooling off.

“We are seeing a noticeable increase in those coming out,” Walsh said. “It is being well used.”

If the beach does become too packed where people are not following social distancing guidelines, Walsh said the board will consider shutting the beaches down again, something he said they do not want to do.

OTHERS OPENING UP

Across the Three Rivers Park District, beaches are also open for the public.

Three Rivers Associate Superintendent Luke Skinner said that as the beaches fill with people, visitors need to be mindful of maintaining social distance.

On each beach, signs are posted to advise visitors to keep six feet between others.

While the district’s beaches are normally unguarded, Skinner said staff members will be making rounds and keeping tabs on the visitors’ social distance.

But ultimately Skinner is trusting that visitors use their judgment.

“People need to take personal responsibility and social distance,” Skinner said.

Typically, beaches are not the only way for visitors to stay cool in Three Rivers. One alternative is splash pads in play areas, especially popular for kids during hot days. However, COVID-19 has forced them to close as well.

Skinner said that they are taking a measured approach to determine if the play areas will be classified similarly to visitor centers and other facilities closed right now. While he did not say if they would be closed all summer long, he said that they will likely not open in June. Their decisions for July will take place in mid-June.

Boat launches are open now and boat rentals will begin June 11, according to their website.

Skinner said if visitors want to steer clear of larger crowds, avoid the weekends.

“If you have the opportunity, come during the week,” he said. “The weekends will certainly be the busiest.”

Safety comes first, but Skinner understands how important a public beach is to Minnesotans, especially during a pandemic.

“People need a place to get away from what’s going on.”

KEEPING DISTANCE

Another city keeping its beaches open this summer is Chanhassen.

City beaches will be open, as normal, from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.

Chanhassen Recreation Superintendent Jerry Ruegemer is encouraging those coming out to be conscious of maintaining social distance.

“People should be responsible for themselves and follow the guidelines,” Ruegemer said.

Ruegemer added that although groups need to be 10 people or less, the visitors should monitor themselves.

“We’re asking people to self-police,” he said.

Prior Lake is another city that will keep beaches open for the summer season.

On May 23, its beaches reopened, but like other cities, it is requiring visitors to follow social distancing guidelines.

Signs and spaced-out picnic tables are two ways visitors can take part in maintaining at least six feet distance from others.

“We feel there’s enough room on the beach for people to social distance,” said Prior Lake Recreation Manager Angie Barstad.

For the last eight years, Prior Lake beaches have not had lifeguards monitoring the beaches, so they rely on guests following guidelines. However, Barstad still expects the beaches to be popular. “I think people are getting stir crazy and want to get out,” she said.

Amid abnormal times, an attempt at normalcy is slowly taking place. One step in that reincarnation includes people enjoying a day at the beach. But safety and health will remain the highest priority.

“Guests should come prepared,” Walsh said. “We are really reliant on them following social distancing guidelines.”

The onus is on the guests. If they can maintain a safe distance and safely enjoy the beach, Walsh anticipates a busy summer on the beach.

“We want to have a safe and enjoyable experience for our guests.”


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