Plum Island beaches remain open

RICHARD K. LODGE/Staff file photoA sign posted at the Plum Island National Wildlife Refuge beach last year after April 1 when all beach access parking lots, except Lot 1, were closed to protect nesting piping plovers. 

With New Hampshire public beaches closed to limit the spread of COVID-19, officials in Newburyport and Newbury are coordinating efforts to ensure people do not flock to Plum Island beaches.

The City of Newburyport recently closed the North Point parking lot to visitors and Newbury officials are considering similar action for their parking lots.

“We’re just making preparations,” Newbury Emergency Management Director Michael Reilly said Tuesday.

Reilly, the town’s police chief, said Newbury is trying to prevent gatherings of 50 to 100 people in beach parking lots, a real possibility when the weather becomes warmer.

“The best possible solutions to what is going to turn into a beach problem at some point,” Reilly added.

Newburyport Mayor Donna Holaday said there were no plans to close the city’s Plum Island beaches but added that she and Newbury officials are working together to limit visitors to the barrier island.

“I really don’t want to shut down the beaches yet,” Holaday said.

For hours Monday afternoon, that’s exactly what people thought when an electronic message sign near Plum Island Airport announced the island was closed.

The message sign quickly spread to Facebook, prompting the owner of The Cottage Island Market to announce that his business remained open.

The city sent a message to a Plum Island Facebook group about 5:20 p.m., announcing the sign was “accidentally activated” and shut off.

On Tuesday morning, the electronic sign was still adjacent to the airport but remained off.

Whether beaches remain open may soon become moot should Gov. Charlie Baker follow New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu’s lead, something that local leaders believe is a real possibility.

Coincidentally, the Plum Island National Wildlife Refuge on Plum Island is closing all beach access, except at Parking Lot 1, today to protect nesting piping plovers. This closure occurs every year at this time and extends through the summer until the young of the protected shorebirds have fledged.

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