SALISBURY — The calendar may have read Patriots Day, but yesterday's soaring temperatures and traffic backups leading to area beaches made it seem more like June or July.
As the thermometer rose into the 80s, traffic on several roads leading to beaches in Salisbury, Seabrook and Hampton backed up for miles throughout the day.
By mid-morning, temperatures had already reached the low 80s and traffic was bumper to bumper all the way from Interstate 495 to Salisbury Beach. Traffic woes stretched even farther as the day progressed, with I-495 north backing up all the way into Haverhill and into the outskirts of Methuen, according to state police.
Motorists found little relief on some of the smaller roads leading into Salisbury Beach as traffic on Route 286 in Salisbury and Seabrook rolled at a slow crawl from Interstate 95
A similar scene played out in Amesbury as Route 110 was jammed at the I-495 merge and well past the Main Street intersection.
Thousands also flocked to Plum Island yesterday, clogging Plum Island Turnpike and quickly filling up parking lots at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge.
Newbury police Lt. John Lucey Jr. said judging by the number of people entering the island, it seemed more like the Fourth of July than Patriots Day.
Salisbury resident Ray Whitley, who volunteered at the refuge yesterday, said when he arrived there in the morning, traffic entering the facility was backed way down Sunset Drive and Island Road.
Acting Salisbury police Chief Robert Roy described traffic as unusual for this time of year, saying the beach community doesn't see that kind of congestion until late May or June. Combining the summer-like weather with the Patriots Day holiday, it made for a perfect day at Salisbury Beach, Roy said.
"It's an absolutely gorgeous day, unbelievable. I can't remember a time when it has been this nice, everything coming together," Roy said, referring to the mid-April beach day.
Salisbury police officers on the day shift were busy reporting traffic jams and keeping an eye on motorists. Roy said he expected to increase police presence later yesterday afternoon as he predicted people would leave at roughly the same time frame.
For those looking for the best way to enter Salisbury Beach without getting stuck in traffic, the best bet yesterday seemed to be through Newburyport. Traffic remained light on Route 1 through the Clipper City and into Salisbury Square. A right turn on Beach Road was relatively hassle free, as was the trip into the beach area.
But those looking to access the beach areas via the highways were confronted with massive delays, sometimes compounded by motor vehicle accidents, disabled cars and road debris.
Heavy traffic not only meant long delays for people heading to the beaches, but those simply looking to run an errand or meet up with family to celebrate Patriots Day.
Amesbury resident and former Municipal Council president Roger Benson said he spent much of his morning stuck in traffic on Route 110 in Amesbury.
"It's frustrating to be a local trying to get around and run errands, but I understand that the tourism is good for the local economy. I'll be glad when the 110 project is complete," Benson said, referring to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation's road-widening project currently under way.
Those who made it to Salisbury Beach were able to enjoy record high temperatures, as the thermometer hit 86 degrees in Salisbury, breaking the previous record of 84 degrees, set in 2003.
"It's like the middle of July — who would think it'd be like this on Patriots Day," Bill Goad Jr. of Lowell said.
Goad was lounging in a chair at the top of the beach near Broadway with friends Ned Tarmey, Dan Greenwood and Fred Greenwood.
"Global warning is a good thing for us who are retired," Lawrenceville, Ga., resident Dan Greenwood said, joking.
A little farther down the beach, John Melia of Georgetown and his 3-year-old daughter, Ava, were resting on a beach towel watching several youngsters splash each other in the chilly ocean.
When asked if he ran into heavy traffic, Melia said their morning ride was relatively painless, having taken Interstate 95 to Route 110 to Beach Road.
"It's just a nice opportunity that lined up well," Melia said of his family's day at the beach.