Home Indiana News Beaches Are Closed, But That Doesn’t Stop The Crowds

Beaches Are Closed, But That Doesn’t Stop The Crowds

Public beaches don’t reopen until at least June 14, but that didn’t stop some crowds from heading to the sand over Memorial Day weekend.

Temperatures in the mid 80s, no rain and high humidity had people wanting to hit the water to cool off. But now, the beach at Winona Lake’s Limitless Park and Splash Pad is barricaded off by a border of snow fence put up Tuesday by town officials after a crowded weekend,  Town Manager Craig Allebach said.

The park has had caution tape wrapped around the equipment for a month, and the restrooms are closed and the Splash Pad is not turned on. While the beach is still closed to the public, there was nothing keeping people off of the sand.

According to Allebach, crowds of people “shoulder to shoulder” visited the beach this past weekend, including some doing “stupid stuff” like jumping off of the pier posts, he said.

Allebach said the beach plans to reopen to the public June 14, in accordance with Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb’s phase of reopening, adding that the town hopes to get at least one of the public restrooms opened by the end of this week.

Winona Lake’s tentative plan for reopening its park amenities originally had the playground reopening on Friday. However, Holcomb announced he was not allowing playgrounds to reopen as part of his original phase and playgrounds are now “to be determined.”

The Splash Pad at Winona Lake will turn the water on July 4, and boat rentals will also resume then.

Winona Lake Town Marshal Joe Hawn said his department didn’t receive any complaints over the weekend regarding crowding, but his on-duty officers did note the beach was fairly crowded.

The same story seems to have happened in Warsaw, according to Warsaw Parks and Recreation Department Superintendent Larry Plummer.

Plummer said crowds of 15 to 20 people were reportedly hanging out at Pike Lake over the weekend and “not following social distancing.” He said a similar situation was happening at Center Lake, but not as bad.

“The beaches are closed, so people shouldn’t be doing that,” he said. “We have signs up and on the beach area that say the beaches are closed. I think the signs speak for themselves, and we’ve the police patrol it as well to kind of keep an eye on it … so if it does get worse, we may have to take further action.”

Plummer doesn’t plan on putting up any fencing to keep people out, and reminds residents that the beaches are expected to reopen June 14.

“Please be patient with this and keep your social distance, and that might be the way we get to the opening of the beaches, if people can abide by the social distancing, and on June 14, we’ll see how that goes,” Plummer said.

Warsaw Mayor Joe Thallemer reiterated what Plummer said.

“We’re erring on the side of caution,” Thallemer said. “I’m really watching the data and I know that pools are allowed to open, but we have been really careful promoting social distancing, and that to me is the hardest part of this whole thing. Promoting social distancing and at a beach, by opening a beach you really cannot control the number of people there. You just can’t do it at an outdoor venue like that. Indoor you can, but outdoor you can’t, so we pushed back opening the beaches to Phase Four, June 14, instead of Phase Three for that very reason.”

Thallemer said he and Plummer discussed the topic at length before making the decision about opening the beaches.

“I just don’t feel comfortable with opening them. The water’s still 60, 64 degrees, and I know there will be some hot days in there and make people mad,” Thallemer said, noting that there will be an additional 5,000 random tests happening in June to provide further data for the general population who may be asymptomatic.

“The two-week random testing in early June is going to give us a real indication of how this thing is doing. We did 5,000 in May and we’re going to do 5,000 more random tests,” Thallemer said. “It shows a 2.8% in the general random population, so what happens now in June I think is going to be something telltale: Is this getting better, is it slowing down, and it’s not just the number of confirmed cases, because obviously with more testing it will go up, but the random testing shows us the percentage wise who have it and more importantly people without symptoms. I think 44% are asymptomatic, so you throw a big gathering together, there’s a pretty good chance someone’s gonna have it and not know they have it. It’s not easy.”

The city did decide to open up the tennis and pickleball courts to playing, but the basketball courts remain closed, Thallemer said.

“I talked to other mayors who have the same issue. How do you play basketball and social distance? You just can’t,” he said.

Thallemer also said he won’t be recommending people wear face masks when they visit the beaches after the beaches reopen.

“If I want people to wear masks at the beach that means they’re not observing social distancing, which defeats the whole purpose,” he said.

Until then, the mayor said the city will be keeping an eye on the situation until it reopens.

“If we get complaints, we’re going to keep an eye on it and we’ll have to ask people to leave, but we don’t want to do that. We just don’t want to do that. We want to make sure people try and take it on themselves to not push it,” he said. “The water will be nice and warm by June 14, and we’ll be ready to go.”

Over in North Webster, Police Department Sgt. Candy Smythe said her department didn’t have calls of complaints about people crowding or causing problems during the holiday.

“We had nothing,” Smythe said. “Our park is not as big, but we didn’t get any complaints, and we usually do if something’s going, we will get the complaints.”