LACONIA — Would-be sun worshippers had to wait their turn at times at Weirs Beach on Saturday and Sunday as the city’s largest beach reached its COVID-19 capacity for extended times.
Parks Facilities Director Amy Lovisek said people waited for up to 3½ hours on Saturday before they were allowed on the 750-foot-long beach on Lake Winnipesaukee. On Sunday the numbers were lower, but at about 2 p.m. access to the beach had to be shut off, when it again reached its 400-person capacity, Lovisek explained.
Most who headed onto the beach did not practice social distancing, Lovisek said. The majority congregated on the grassy area where they could get some shade and where the picnic tables are located, she explained.
“We were not enforcing social distancing on the beach itself,” Lovisek said Monday. She said she did not have any solution of how to address the fact that groups of people not of the same households were not staying at least 6 feet away from each other if it should continue to be a problem.
“Every other weekend they were following the social-distancing guidance,” Lovisek said. “I think the Fourth of July is unique,” she said in terms of the turnout and makeup of the crowds.
Because the virus that causes COVID-19 is thought to spread mostly person to person, by respiratory droplets released when an infected person talks, coughs, or sneezes, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with other health experts, recommend that people remain at least 6 feet away from people they do not live with.
Lovisek said the number of out-of-state visitors to Bartlett Beach and the beach at Ahern State Park, both on Lake Winnisquam, was much higher than usual, but she was unsure the cap at Weirs Beach was responsible for the influx.
Bartlett Beach is part of the city's park system.
Bob Witham, a maintenance worker with the NH State Parks department. said when he arrived Monday morning, someone had piled the trash along a chain-link fence.
"There's 34 bags of trash there, plus miscellaneous," he said. "I've never that much of it before."
Witham said he usually works out of Ellacoya State Park in Gilford and the Ahern park is a satellite location that they also tend to.
"This is wide open to the public so we knew it was going to get a lot of people," he said.
As Whitham was talking, Kathy Rice of Laconia came by and informed him that there were five huge bags of trash on a nearby access road.
"I really wish people would carry in and carry out," she said. "Some people carry in and carry out. There were some campers that were up here a couple weeks ago and they had their bags and they were good responsible people. But a lot of people who come dump their stuff."
Karen Laflamme said she was heartbroken over what she found when she showed up at Ahern on Monday morning.
"It was so disgusting at 7 o’clock that I had to take my dog out of there," she said. "They left propane cans right in the parking lot. Garbage, dirty diapers. Used toilet paper. It was disgusting."
Especially worriesome for a dog owner, Laflamme said, were the chicken bones left on the beach.
She said she stopped by early Saturday morning and there was a traffic jam on the narrow dirt road leading into the park. She estimated the mix of New Hampshire cars and vehicles from out-of-state was about half and half.
"I can’t believe they take a beautiful park and trash it like that."
As for possible solutions, she said perhaps it's time for Ahern to have an attendant, or require people to reserve times in advance.
"If they are caught leaving trash behind they should be fined and lose the right to go there," she said.
On the other hand, there are other local parks around the region that are also unattended, she noted, and "I’ve never even seen a gum wrapper."
Staff writer Roger Carroll contributed to this story.
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