Region’s beach season kicks off with perfect weather
The Connecticut shoreline is used to seeing its fair share of beachgoers over Memorial Day weekend, which rings in the unofficial start of summer.
But on Sunday, as tens of thousands flocked to the region from across the state and greater New England, those soaking up the rays couldn’t help but notice that summer this year seemed to be starting off with a bang.
“Look at the crowd we have here today. Look at the beach. This turned on overnight,” said Ocean Beach general manager Dave Sugrue, while standing among shuffling beachgoers in bikinis and board shorts, licking soft-serve ice cream cones.
“We’ve never gone into the overflow parking on Memorial Day weekend,” Sugrue continued, explaining that with more than 1,500 cars filling his lot by 3 p.m., he believed more than 7,000 people were milling about Ocean Beach.
“This is the first time that this is happened. And it is very unusual,” Sugrue said. “But I’m more excited than I could tell you.”
Reasoning why there was such an explosion of people Sunday, Sugrue said he thought the summer-like weather was drawing the larger-than-average crowds.
“I think the weather has been poor and it finally broke and people are just itching to get outside,” he said.
Meteorologist Gary Lessor, an assistant director with The Weather Center at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury, agreed with that notion Sunday, saying that though the spring has not seen higher amounts of rain this year, the rain has been more frequent, making spring gloomier than typical.
He said that 23 of the 30 days in April saw rain, while in May, there has been a total of 17 rainy days so far.
“You should only have roughly nine days of precipitation throughout the month,” Lessor said. “So it is extremely significant.”
Also marking the “hottest day so far this year,” Lessor said that Sunday’s temperatures hit a high of 78 on the shoreline, while skyrocketing to 90 inland.
“It feels like the first real summer day along the shoreline,” Lessor said. “And today is the first 90-degree temperature to be recorded in Connecticut.”
Ocean Beach wasn’t the only place Sunday to see crowds in the thousands, however. Harkness Memorial State Park in Waterford announced over its Twitter account that it had reached parking capacity by 1 p.m., while attendants at a parking lot in Old Lyme’s Sound View neighborhood also were forced to tell desperate beachgoers that their lot was full by noon.
Route 156 through Old Lyme and East Lyme also saw heavy amounts of traffic as people pushed into Rocky Neck State Park, and according to attendants there, the park had well over a thousand cars by 2 p.m.
Explaining why, the attendants said this summer marks the second year Connecticut residents are allowed to park for free at state parks.
Among those at Rocky Neck were Emily Michaud of Bristol, her husband, Miguel Espada, and their three daughters.
While explaining the beach was her favorite to visit in the state because of its sand bar and child-friendly atmosphere, Michaud also said that the state’s new parking policy gave her and her family greater reason to drive to the shoreline Sunday.
“It’s nice. It gives you more of an incentive to come and it brings out a lot more people,” Michaud said of the new policy, while holding her 1-year-old as her other two daughters lounged in colorful swimsuits under a shade tent. “Everyone is more willing to come out here and make the trip. You don’t have to worry about stopping along the way to grab cash for parking. It’s really nice.”
For Valerie Lewis and her husband, John, of Portland, however, Sunday’s beach was a little too crowded for their preference, though they made clear it wouldn’t stop them from having a good time together.
“We would rather see people pay,” Valerie said, while unpacking her beach cart. “For families, I totally understand, but as semi-retirees we wish it wouldn’t be so crowded.”
“But we are here and we stopped and got our lunch,” Valerie continued, smiling. “And we are going to sit on the beach and people watch and just be lazy on this beautiful holiday weekend.”