SODUS POINT — The Memorial Day weekend is a time when many people head to parks for some relaxation and recreation as part of the unofficial opening to the summer season.
But in a year when the coronavirus pandemic seems to hover over virtually everything, that tradition will be different in Wayne County this summer.
On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors is expected to approve a resolution that will limit offerings at county parks, including the popular Sodus Point and Forman parks along the Lake Ontario shoreline.
With a hiring freeze in place to address a significant funding shortfall and safety concerns as well, supervisors are expected to approve a plan to scale back use and maintenance at county parks for 2020.
The health and safety of park users, as well as financial considerations, played into the recommendation before the Board of Supervisors, said County Administrator Rick House.
Per powers granted to him under the county’s state of emergency enacted in response to the coronavirus outbreak, House is continuing a hiring freeze that was first instituted by supervisors in 2019.
He said not filling 34 seasonal positions related to county parks — including lifeguards at Sodus Point — will save $330,000 at a time when the estimated county revenue shortfall is about $10 million.
At the supervisors’ Public Works meeting last week, Buildings and Grounds Superintendent Kevin Rooney provided three options for park operations in 2020:
• Open the parks as normal this holiday weekend and hire seasonal workers;
• Open parks without staffing, with bathrooms locked, portable toilets installed at some parks, garbage cans removed and signage for carry-in-carry-out and no pavilion rentals.
• Option three: Close parks, barricade entrances, with the knowledge that people are still likely to use the parks.
Committee supervisors chose option two, and a resolution for full board approval is on Tuesday morning’s agenda.
Rooney said the moves are regrettable, but there are a host of reasons why option two is the best solution for this year.
For one, he said he had not heard a directive from the governor on when beaches would be opened, noting it is expected to be in the final phase. Gov. Andrew Cuomo indicated late last week that state beaches would be open Memorial Day weekend and that local municipalities had the option to do so, with restrictions. Rooney said he has seen no directives from the governor regarding beaches.
Beyond that, said Rooney, there are a host of safety issues at Sodus Point Park that he thinks even with his usual seasonal staffing would be problematic.
One is trying to maintain six-foot social distancing between people on a public beach that can be quite crowded on a warm day in the peak summer season.
Another is the cleaning of bathhouse facilities.
“Somebody needs to be there to wipe down door handles and door knobs, and it would not be once a day,” he said. “It would need to be done hourly. I don’t feel comfortable that we could do that with existing staff.”
The good thing, said Rooney, is the beach itself will be open for people to swim, although without lifeguards. There will be portable bathroom facilities and likely running water — there is an outdoor shower — but beach-goers should be aware that faucets won’t be sanitized, Rooney emphasized.
Sodus Point Mayor Dave McDowell said he understands the decision to scale back beach operations.
“From what I know, this is as much about budget as COVID,” he said. “It is a big savings to the county, and we are all losing money from our budgets. I am okay with it.”