Citing the COVID-19 pandemic, the Mashpee selectmen unanimously voted July 27 to close town beaches to nonresidents and institute parking restrictions near Johns Pond.
The decision followed an influx of more than 40 complaints reporting large and disruptive gatherings of nonresidents at Johns Pond beach, some which expressed concern about litter, public urination, defecation and a lack of social distancing at the location.
“I do believe that we are in extraordinary and unique times relative to COVID-19. We’ve discussed at length the health hazards and the conditions that we need to be extremely careful with,” Town Manager Rodney C. Collins said. “I’m asking for the board to limit access to the beach to residents, tribal members [and] military.”
Records indicate that Mashpee’s town manager, health department and recreation department began fielding complaints about the activity around Johns Pond by phone and email on July 20 and had received more than 35 complaints by July 24.
“The weekend was extremely busy at South Cape and Johns Pond,” Mashpee Recreation Director Mary K. Bradbury wrote in a memo to the town manager on July 20.
Johns Pond was “overflowing on Sunday [July 26] with walk-ins. We had approximately 200 people on the hill, grilling and not adhering to social distancing despite repeated reminders from myself and staff,” she said.
Ms. Bradbury estimated that 90 cars were parked along Hooppole Road, which skirts the edge of Joint Base Cape Cod before looping into Falmouth, and Back Road, which leads to the Johns Pond beach and park area.
Police determined the cars were legally parked and out of the way, she said in the memo.
Around 1:30 PM, Ms. Bradbury said, the recreation department began to restrict walk-ins, but, due to a “misunderstanding,” the staff at the gate turned away two residents even though the town parking lot at the beach was only about one-third full.
The same day, police responded to “an escalating argument” and two 911 calls that originated in the area, Ms. Bradbury said in the memo, and the harbormaster responded twice to pontoon boats near the swimming area and “reckless operation of jet skis in the cove area beyond the fish ladder.”
Police call logs indicate “negative contact” with the 911 callers.
Ms. Bradbury wrote in the memo that a resident stopped her and stated he was “disgusted with the invasion” of “illegals from off Cape.”
“I just listened,” Ms. Bradbury wrote in the memo.
In another memo to the town manager on July 22, Ms. Bradbury wrote that staff arriving at Johns Pond on July 20 reported human feces in the parking lot, an overflowing portable toilet that leaked waste into the parking lot and a large amount of trash, including glass bottles, throughout the picnic and parking lot areas.
“Yesterday was the craziest I’ve ever seen since buying our home in 2008,” Jeremiah Walsh, a resident near Johns Pond, wrote in an email to Mr. Collins on July 20.
Mr. Walsh said vehicles were parked up and down the streets with people being shuttled back and forth to the beach.
“We had to tell people they couldn’t park in front of our house, only to have them park in front of the neighbors’ houses without permission. The police department’s presence was very noticed throughout the day and much appreciated; however, I still didn’t want to leave my house for fear of what I would return to,” he wrote.
Several other residents noted in complaints having to put barriers in front of their homes to prevent people from parking on their property.
Doreen Machado, another resident of the area near the pond, wrote in an email complaint that on July 19 music began to blare from the beach area around 7 AM.
“Tents, people and music coming off the beach and the grassy area and it was not even 7:30 am,” Ms. Machado wrote.
“There is food, garbage and human waste being left everywhere. The wooded area is being used as a public bathroom with toilet paper etcetera being left behind,” she wrote.
Another resident of the area, Kristen Ferguson, also reported loud music and litter at the beach on the same morning.
Many complaints noted that issues with overcrowding and litter at the beach are not new. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, though, when social distancing is recommended, the problem has only grown worse, the complaints said.
In 2017, Mashpee selectmen discontinued the sale of day passes to the pond after complaints of litter and misuse of charcoal grills. However, an agreement with the state, which helped the town purchase the park and beach area in 1982, has prevented the town from implementing an outright ban on nonresidents.
“The participant [Mashpee] agrees that the facilities of the project shall be open to the general public and shall not be limited to residents of the participant [Mashpee],” the agreement from 1982 states.
“Knowing that beach is owned by state and town, how are we covering ourselves for nonresidents?” asked board member Carol A. Sherman at the selectmen’s meeting on Monday, raising the specter of the 1982 agreement.
“We’re using the fact that we’ve got a public health emergency and that this is a necessary step in order for us to allow ourselves to maintain the numbers,” selectman Andrew R. Gottlieb replied. “I think this is one of these instances where under normal circumstances this would be difficult to do. We’re not living in normal times.”
Mr. Gottlieb noted that the state could push back but said, if they did, the town could “slow-dance the conversation past Labor Day, and [then] it’s a moot point.”
The closure of beaches to nonresidents applies to all town beaches, not just Johns Pond, the selectmen said.
The nonresident restrictions shall remain in place until the selectmen rescind the restrictions or Governor Charles D. Baker Jr. terminates the state of emergency, according to the motion passed by the selectmen.
A public hearing on the parking restrictions near Johns Pond is scheduled for Monday, August 10.