As summer begins, new policies in place for Sandy Beach

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Memorial Day unofficially kicks off the long-awaited summer season. In Hopkinton, it also marked the start of new policies in effect at Sandy Beach, where a residents-only sticker policy is being implemented.

“Prior to last summer, Sandy Beach has always been open to the general public, not just Hopkinton residents,” explained Parks & Recreation Department director Jay Guelfi. “It was open to anyone if they were willing to pay the daily fee. Or if they wanted to launch a boat, they could get a trailer sticker.”

However, last summer, with increased usage due to the pandemic, the Parks & Recreation Commission decided to limit access to Hopkinton residents for safety reasons — although the commission had been contemplating changing the policy for the past few years.

“We noticed with fewer people on the beach, it was safer, it was friendlier and it was a little less difficult logistically for people to get in and out of there,” Guelfi said. Over the past several years, there had been a much higher influx of out-of-town visitors who appreciated its natural charm and smaller size.

During the peak season, this is a popular amenity for Hopkintonians. Because of this, residents will need to purchase stickers ($50) for access. Boat trailer passes ($100) also will need to be purchased, either for the day or the season. Passes are free for residents 65 and older. They must be displayed on vehicle windshields, even when staff is not present. Any vehicle without a pass will be subject to a $100 fine.

A number of improvements will welcome residents as they enter the park. The entry point is now at the parking lot rather than the beach gate, where residents can purchase their stickers and have them checked by a staff beach attendant. The parking lot has been relined and repaved to better accommodate vehicular traffic.

Guelfi was quick to thank the Department of Public Works and the Highway Department for their assistance in completing the parking lot repairs and installing new signage. Guelfi also credited police and fire personnel for providing valuable input on the policy. The police will be monitoring the beach after dusk to enforce the curfew and direct traffic at closing time.

Parks & Rec Commission member Cynthia Esthimer was part of a study committee formed to analyze all aspects of the beach, from the functionality of the boat ramp and the parking lot to the lifeguards. The committee included Esthimer, members of the Lake Maspenock Preservation Association (LMPA) and a former Select Board member. The group came to the conclusion that residents would be best served if the park were exclusively for them to prevent overcrowding.

Parks & Rec program coordinator Jennifer Hart said that the parking pass program will be subject to tweaks as feedback comes in. She noted that while the park closes at dusk, residents with stickers could enjoy an early evening swim, although lifeguards will not be present at that time.

“We want residents to know that if you don’t have a beach pass, you’re going to receive a ticket,” she said. “The message is you must have a beach pass visible on your car or your trailer.”

This policy actually had been in the works for several years, especially following a drowning two years ago, but the pandemic heightened the awareness of keeping the area a safe and enjoyable recreational space for residents, according to Hart.

“A young boy from Worcester drowned in the evening hours, and it happened that he was not a resident,” Esthimer said, noting that the 9-year-old and his caretaker did not speak English as a first language. “This encouraged Parks & Rec and the LMPA and our chiefs to put in a call box that requires no language interpretation and is wheelchair accessible. We have changed the signage with [Hart’s] help with visual images so it need not be language specific.

“There was quite a bit of trauma in the town with young families who tried valiantly to save him and ultimately found him before the police arrived,” she noted.

There will also be a grab bag with goggles and safety equipment on hand for people to access in case of emergencies, according to Esthimer.

Guelfi said employees at the beach will be ready to assist in whatever manner necessary.

“We are bringing back a very seasoned team of parking attendants and lifeguards this season,” he stressed. “We feel confident that our team is going to be very, very good.”

Esthimer added that there have been allowances for residents along the lake in Upton and Milford to purchase passes to enjoy boating and swimming “to make them continue to feel welcome.”

She also said there is still public access to the lake, which is under the purview of the state Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). The public boat ramp for canoes, kayaks and small boats is on West Main Street.

“We’re asking all the residents to see Sandy Beach as an asset to the town, a real gem, and we’d like people to really treasure it and make a good, healthy event of going there,” Esthimer said.

“Part of this push is that it takes a village to take care of it and preserve it,” Hart added. “We’re not trying to be the Grinch. We are doing this with the best intentions.”

For more detailed information about the pass program, go to hopkintonma.myrec.com.

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