Bethany Beach’s recent decision to keep the beach within its town closed, even for exercise and dog-walking, was hugely disappointing. Using the governor’s restrictions on large gatherings as the reason, Bethany’s town manager argued that the Town “would have to bring in a militia” to reduce potential crowding, and would be unable to “bring on enough staff to regulate the number of people on the beach or to regulate physical distancing once they’re on the beach.”
If Bethany Beach truly wanted to make its beaches available, it could find a way to do so. With record numbers of people unemployed, as well as so many college kids released from school, there is a vast pool of unemployed to draw upon to regulate the beach. And hiring from the surrounding areas would have the dual benefit of helping lower local unemployment numbers and offset some of the income lost for those who worked at closed shops and restaurants.
The Town has said that it is in solid financial condition, but if it needed to defray expenses, I’m pretty sure the local boardwalk businesses or town chamber of commerce would help, given the boost in take-out sales that would likely accompany the beach reopening.
There is also a humanitarian aspect to providing beach access that should not be lost in the discussion about beach openings. Many families, particularly those with young children, are suffering from isolation and loss of physical stimulus. Just one day frolicking on the beach would make a significant difference in their lives, especially for those without the financial means for other diversions.
Some will argue against opening the beach, afraid that increased numbers of beachgoers will pose a health threat to town residents. But the threat can be minimized. Those afraid of contracting the virus, including the elderly and others at risk, need not venture to the beach. And with short-term rental restrictions still in place, many of those using the beach would be local residents anyway. If Bethany wanted additional assurance, it could do what New York and other states have done with their reopened parks and recreation areas, and hand out face masks to beachgoers.
Perhaps it is too much to expect, but when adversity strikes, we would hope that the best is brought out in people. Each of the coastal towns which have been given stewardship of our national resources should keep this in mind. Closing our beaches when there are ample means to have them safely accessible seems unkind. As the Coastal Point has so aptly stated, “Let’s give each other a break and get through this together.”
Joseph P. Petito