HAVERHILL — With the arrival of summer heat, people have been sneaking into the Plug Pond Recreation area, the site of Haverhill's only public beach.
On Sunday and again Tuesday, city workers and police ordered people to leave the area. Because the pond is not yet open to the public, there are no lifeguards on duty and no security workers to enforce social distancing rules required by the COVID-19 crisis.
All that will change, however, in a few days.
The Plug Pond Recreation Area opens Saturday for the summer, pending results of a water quality test that will be conducted on Wednesday, with the results available on Thursday.
Last week's test showed the water passed health standards requiring low bacteria levels, according to city Human Services Director Vincent Ouellette.
He said the pond usually opens to the public at the end of the school year, which was Friday of last week, but that a shortage of lifeguards delayed the opening until this Saturday.
Ouellette said he normally has as many as 10 lifeguards working rotating shifts, but at this point he has only two lifeguards and needs more. He said he also has several "park ambassadors" who handle other functions.
A crowd of about 100 people slipped into the area on Sunday, a very hot day, but there was little the city could do, Ouellette said.
"The gates were locked, but they still got in by stretching the chain or by walking around the gate, and we had signs indicating no swimming when lifeguards are not on duty, which is a $50 fine,'' Ouellette said. "We have seen crowds in the past before opening day and in September after we close. This does happen from time to time and police did keep an eye on things so it did not get out of control."
But there was a significant amount of trash strewn about the area, Ouellette said, so he called in a cleaning crew on Monday.
He said another crowd showed up on Tuesday, with as many as 20 people in the water and more on the beach. He said a staff member who was cleaning the restrooms asked the people to leave, but they ignored his request, so he called police and they ordered everyone to leave, Ouellette said.
"It has taken time getting the proper signage in place, hiring staff, obtaining personal protective equipment and sanitation supplies, and then we have rules and regulations to follow," he said. "It will be a new way of operating for some time."
Staff members will be at the recreation area starting Wednesday, and if members of the public show up they will be asked to leave, Ouellette said.
Normally, the area is limited to 200 people at one time, however, Ouellette said that during this second phase of Gov. Baker's reopening plan, the crowd must be limited to 75 people at a time. Only Haverhill residents are allowed into the recreation area.
A variety of regulations will be in place, including that visitors must remain socially distant and that no games involving physical contact are allowed. Grilling food will not be allowed.
There will also be a learning curve.
"We just don't know how to maintain social distancing in the water," Ouellette said. "Invariably some issues are going to crop up, such as people being upset that others aren't practicing social distancing or aren't wearing a face mask. We're not sure how we're going to handle that as we can't possibly watch the water and watch everyone else."
ABOUT PLUG POND RECREATION AREA
Hours: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, until the end of August
Parking: $2 per day, season pass is $20
Open to: Haverhill residents only