OXFORD — Guests of taxpayers and residents will only be allowed at Pismo Beach if the resident or taxpayer is present.
The Oxford Board of Selectmen on a 3-2 vote, with Selectmen Scott Hunter and Ed Knightly opposing the move, approved the new beach regulation at its Thursday, July 20 meeting, but not without a lengthy discussion.
The town beach and its adjacent boat ramp on the 4,426-acre Thompson Lake, which borders Oxford, Poland and Otisfield with a depth of 121 feet, was created in 1975 on land donated by the Anderson-Staples American Legion.It was funded and maintained by town’s Recreation Department, the Oxford Baseball Softball Association and volunteers.
Last week’s vote, that was presented to the board by Recreation Director Connie Staples, supersedes the existing regulation that allows guests of property owners on the beach with a consent slip, which was obtained at the Town Office.
Although the existing consent slips will be honored through this summer season, next summer all residents or taxpayers will have to be present with their guests. No consent slips will be issued.
“The taxpayer has to be present. It’s simple,” said Selectboard Chairman Scott Owens when a lengthy conversation ensued about specific cases.
But others said it may not be so simple.
“Times have changed from 20 or 30 years,” said Staples of the numerous questions that are now raised because of the new policy.
Can the town’s SACC preschool program, from both Oxford and Norway, continue to send some 75 children and approximately 10 adults to the beach if a taxpayer is not present?
Will the town allow 93-room Hampton Inn to continue to send its guests down to the town beach for a day of sun and relaxation? And what about when the 106-room adjacent Oxford Casino Hotel opens up? Will the town beach be open to those guests?
What about the 87-year-old Oxford grandparent who wants to send her visiting out-of-state grandchildren to the beach or those summer cottage renters? What about the out-of-town babysitter who relies on the beach to keep the kids entertained or Oxford resident Frank whose sister, a resident of Norway, has for years enjoyed swimming in Thompson Lake?
“Suddenly the doors swing wide open,” Staples said of the possibilities.
Initial response by those at the town beach to the change has been positive.
“Rules are there for a reason,” beach-goer and Oxford resident Jessica Roy, who after some thought questioned whether her children’s babysitter would be allowed on the beach with her kids when she was at work.
Others were adamant that the change is for the best.
“This is my beach,” said one resident who asked not to be identified.
Beach attendant Russ Hart said he will enforce whatever rules the Board of Selectmen approve, but he understands there may be some initial confusion.
“I’m not going to ruin someone’s day,” he said of the time when people arrive on the beach not knowing the new rules.
Like Oxford, Poland has grappled with the same desire to keep its beaches open to taxpayers and residents only.
With limited parking along Route 11, this narrow strip of beach at Tripp Lake opens up to a beautiful 3-mile long lake, with a maximum depth of 35 feet, that is ideal for swimming, small boats, canoes and kayaks. But on a hot summer day, the water body also beckons to thousands of motorists who drive by on the busy roadway that connects the Raymond/Windham area on Route 302 to the Lewiston/Auburn area or to residents of nearby communities like Mechanic Falls, which lacks a swimming area.
Poland Recreation Department Director Scott Segal said the town instituted a seasonal ($50) and day ($5) pass for nonresidents using Tripp Lake in 2007, primarily to discourage an overflow of nonresidents which has, in part, increased trash on the beach.
A beach attendant is on hand daily to make sure users have the proper passes. The beach is open every day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. from June 15 to Oct. 15. For more information on passes, call 207-998-4650.
While the town allows local business people to use the lake, it does not mean that those using the businesses have free access to the beach, he said. Guests at the nearby Wolf Cove Inn, for example, are expected to purchase a pass.
Other towns beaches, such as Crystal Lake in Harrison, and the 978-acre Pennesseewassee Lake in Norway, with its sandy beach area, playground, handicapped accessible outhouse, picnic tables, boat ramp, hiking and fitness trails, are open to the public with no admission fee.
When Crystal Lake was created in the late 1960s, the town received some state and federal parks program funding to purchase and improve the land. Although it was a relatively small amount, it had stipulations attached requiring the beach and parking lot to be open to the public, said Harrison Town Manager George “Bud” Finch.
Because of that, there have been occasional complaints from locals about the lack of parking and beach space, particularly on hot days, he said.
“In Harrison’s case, there is little we can do to alleviate the parking issue,” Finch said. “The parking lot is not really big enough to handle the number of cars seeking access to the beach but is all the space available within the park limits.”
A plan is being developed to provide a little more permitted local parking, outside of the park area but close to the beach to help alleviate the problem, he said.
“For the most part local people have become accustomed to the parking issue and the reality is we have no way to change the parking issue within the area designated for the park per the original funding,” Finch said.
In Hartford, Selectboard Chair Lee Holman said beach stickers are available for $5 for residents.
Nonresidents are not allowed at the Hartford town beach, she said.
“It’s part of the consent decree that deeded the beach to the town. Hartford residents and their guests are allowed. Families who have children participating in our Rec. Committee swim lessons [are] considered to be our guests,” she said.
Others town beaches in fairly remote areas such as Waterford and Greenwood with limited parking don’t encourage nonresidents to come to their beaches but don’t actively enforce the “residents only” policies either.
Waterford’s Keoka Lake town beach is posted for taxpayers and residents only, but quietly allows nonresidents to access the beach in the remote Waterford Flats on Route 35. In Greenwood, Town Manager Kim Sparks said the town beach on Twitchell Pond on Greenwood Road is posted for residents and taxpayers. Although there is limited parking, no stickers are issued.
“There’s no way to enforce it,” she said.
In Otisfield, where residents receive combined Transfer Station and town beach stickers for free and seasonal passes for people who rent cottages, a “gate keeper” sits at the top of the road to the beach to ensure compliance with the residents and taxpayers only policy, said Administrative Assistant Anne Pastore. The biggest complaint, she said, is that seasonal people want permanent stickers.
Beach access is an issue that goes back decades, whether it’s an ocean beach or a mountain lake, and people have gone to court gain access or deny access to water bodies.
State law allows public access to public waters from any public highway when it adjoins or crosses the water, but that does not mean a person can walk on a town beach to access the water.
The land between the natural low-water mark and the normal high water mark of a Great Pond (defined as a water body being more than 10 acres in size) is generally subject to an easement over unimproved private property for the public to pass on foot.
Some town beaches have used state or federal funding that stipulate public access in return for the money.
Opinions vary and as a result, courts are sometimes asked to intervene and interpret the disagreement.
Some say it’s a sign of the times.
“When I was a kid you didn’t need an ID to go swimming,” said Oxford Selectman Pete Laverdiere, who voted in favor of the restricted policy.
In the case of Oxford’s new restrictive language, the majority of selectmen say they will continue to stand guard at its shore.
As for people like Frank and his sister who have spent years enjoying the town beach?
“Norway has its own beach,” said Selectman Owens. “They can go over there.”