IW, Surry beaches reopen

Published 9:31 pm Wednesday, June 3, 2020

By Stephen Faleski

Staff Writer


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Last weekend was the first Isle of Wight County’s beaches have been officially open to swimmers and sunbathers in the nearly two months since Gov. Ralph Northam issued his stay-at-home executive order in March.

And it showed.

On Sunday at Fort Boykin, a county-owned park near Smithfield that is home to Morgart’s Beach, the parking lot was nearly filled to capacity. On Monday, despite it being a weekday and much cooler outside, it was much the same. 

Gov. Ralph Northam announced last Thursday that as of May 29, most public beaches in Virginia could reopen, provided that beachgoers continue to practice social distancing, limit themselves to groups of no more than 10 people, and shun tents, alcohol and group sports. Prior to this, all beaches except for Virginia Beach, which had reopened just prior to Memorial Day weekend, were to remain closed except for exercise and fishing in accordance with Virginia’s COVID-19 restrictions.

From Friday to Sunday, Isle of Wight County reported four new COVID-19 cases, according to Virginia Department of Health Epidemiologist Amal Patel. But for many who ventured onto the county’s shores last weekend and Monday, the virus seemed very far away.

“I wasn’t really concerned anyways,” said Amanda Jones of Smithfield, who on Monday, took her children and those of her children’s babysitter to Morgart’s.

She then added she felt the pandemic had been “a lot more played out than it was.” She had previously tried to go on Memorial Day weekend, when Morgart’s was still technically restricted to fishing and exercise, but said the parking lot had been “so full there wasn’t a spot to park” that day.

“We wash our hands,” said Ashton Wilson, who visited Morgart’s on Monday with a group of friends.

“I’m not concerned about it anymore,” said Dee Martin of Michigan, who was visiting family in Isle of Wight on Monday and had taken the opportunity to visit Tyler’s Beach in Rushmere that afternoon.

Virginia Beach’s reopening plan includes limiting the city’s parking garages and surface lots to 50% capacity, hiring “beach ambassadors” to remind beachgoers to stay six feet apart unless from the same household and deploying “clean teams” to work in shifts to sanitize high-touch areas such as restrooms and showers. Isle of Wight County, however, does not at present have a specific, written plan for its beaches, according to Assistant County Administrator Don Robertson.

“We’ll continue to do the things we’ve been doing,” Robertson said, which includes having county staff monitor both beaches. But beyond that, the county isn’t doing any enhanced policing of its beaches, he said.

The county, he added, has very limited public beach frontage compared to nearby localities.

“We’re not like Virginia Beach or even Hampton,” Robertson said.

In Surry County, the beach at Chippokes Plantation State Park also reopened to swimmers and sunbathers this past weekend.

“We’re just asking people that they respect the social distancing guidelines,” said Ben Richard, Chippokes’ park manager. “The maximum group size is 10 people and we’re not allowing any kind of beach play sets or tents or groupings of umbrellas or team-type sports.”

These restrictions, he added, apply to all state park beaches that have reopened.

As for enforcement, park rangers are continuing to “keep an eye on the beach,” Richard said, which is what Chippokes has done in the past to ensure visitors’ safety even before the pandemic.