FALMOUTH – For the first time in memory, Falmouth Police blocked the entrance to Goodwill Park yesterday, as the July 4 holiday drew about one thousand people to the park, according to a police estimate.
“It went to over-capacity pretty quickly,” Falmouth Police Lt. Douglas DeCosta said. “We made the decision to close the gates. More cars would have inhibited emergency vehicles.”
The park was closed at around 9am and reopened at around 2pm, according to DeCosta.
When the park was determined to be at capacity with regard to parking spaces, police vehicles were stationed at the entrance to the park to block additional vehicles from entering. No one was asked to leave and vehicles were allowed to exit the park, DeCosta said.
When parking was freed up by exiting vehicles, additional vehicles were allowed to enter, similar to what happens when parking lots are full at Falmouth’s other public beaches, according to DeCosta.
DeCosta said a summer police officer who was stationed at the park yesterday estimated there were about 1,000 people at the park. The beach parking lot was at capacity, and people were parking on conservation land and on the access road, blocking emergency access, he said. Because of the safety concern of the access road being blocked, the decision was made to limit the number of cars allowed into the park.
“We wanted to keep people in the parking lots and not allowing them in the road. They were starting to encroach on the forest and destroying the vegetation,” DeCosta said.
DeCosta said there were no arrests and parking was the main issue, other than “littering and a difference of opinion on noise levels from radios.”
Townwide, DeCosta said the beaches were more crowded than last year on July 4 but the number of police incidents were about the same.
This is not the first time the subject of overcrowding at Goodwill Park has come up. According to a video recording of the Falmouth Selectmen’s meeting on February 27, 2017, the overcrowding of the park in the summer had led the Falmouth Beach Committee to suggest that a committee of stakeholders meet to determine management solutions at the park. At that meeting, Beach Committee Chair Jason Chorches said the Grews Pond waterfront beach area is about 4,000 square feet.
“When you put a couple hundred people in that small little area, it becomes a management issue,” he told selectmen at that meeting.
Goodwill Park, which has Falmouth’s only public freshwater beach at Grews Pond, is also the town’s only free public beach that does not require a beach sticker.
The pond and parking area are set within 86 acres of forest that includes Long Pond, just north of Grews Pond, which is one of the town’s main sources of drinking water.
There is room for about 70 cars in the beach parking lot and another 80 or so spaces near the beach and the playground.
Falmouth Director of Public Works Raymond Jack said the park has gotten more popular in recent years. A DPW staffer is stationed at the park on July 4 and a crew spent time this morning cleaning up litter at the park left over from yesterday’s crowds. He said the trash problem was no greater than was expected.
Mr. Jack said from the DPW’s standpoint, there was nothing unexpected about the large crowd on July 4. That has happened for the last several years. But closing the park to cars was a first, he said.
Saying the park was full, Jack said, “means that for all intents and purposes, it’s full when there is no available place to park. We can’t have them obstructing the roadway.”
He said he attributes the large crowds to the fact that the park is free and has a lot of amenities, plus the fact that July 4 was an especially hot day.
The public amenities at Goodwill include a new playground, two pavilions, picnic tables and five grills, plus a volleyball net.
“It’s the heat. People are looking for the ability to get into a shaded area. The ground temperature is 10 degrees cooler and they can dip into a fresh water pond. That brings over people from other communities because it’s free and has amenities,” Jack said.
He said that from looking at the issue in recent years, it was determined that a lot of families from New Bedford are coming to Goodwill Park.
Falmouth Beach Superintendent Bruce Mogardo, who has been with the Falmouth Beach Department for 47 years, said it was the first time in his memory that Goodwill Park has had to be closed because of the crowd size.
“In my time, we’ve never had to close the park,” he said.
Mogardo said the Falmouth Beach Department scheduled an extra lifeguard at the beach for the holiday and also instituted a special strategy.
One lifeguard was stationed on land and two were out in the water. “That kept bathers in between the shore and the two lifeguards in the water,” he said. “When you get that many people in the water, it’s easy to lose track of them.”
Mogardo recalled a near drowning incident a couple of years ago when the Grews Pond lifeguard performed a rescue and neither the girl rescued nor any of her family members spoke English, leading to problems with critical communication.
Mogardo said he intends to inquire to the town manager about his continued concern about the “large amount of alcohol consumption and overcrowding” at Grews Pond.
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