By Marjorie Nesin
---- — Beachgoers flooded Gloucester’s sandy spots this past weekend, and they have on other weekend days, filling lots well before noon.
But beach parking revenues are still the lowest Gloucester has seen at this point in the season since 2009, leaving city officials hoping for more sunshine and a brighter financial picture.
After a bustling weekend at Gloucester’s three paid parking beaches, Good Harbor Beach, Wingaersheek, and Stage Fort Park, the city had pulled in about $222,000 from beachgoers paying to park. Yet the city had earned about $367,000 by the same time last year, according to city Department of Public Works records.
Assistant Public Works Director Mark Cole said beach erosion is most noticeable at Good Harbor Beach, where storms washed out the sand that used to create a nearly level walk from the dunes to the water. But, he said that sand has already started to come back in, so beach revenues are likely to once again depend more on weather than anything else.
“If you look at numbers from the previous years, they’re a lot higher. That just means we had sunnier weekends,” Cole said. “There’s still time. Good weather this weekend and next weekend would definitely put us back up on pace.”
Though Mayor Carolyn Kirk had carried springtime worries of winter storm erosion negatively affecting beach revenues, a summer dip this past weekend dispelled her fears, making her confident too that this year’s revenues could catch up.
“I swam at Good Harbor and at the low tide had to walk out really far, farther than I think I’ve ever had to, in order to just dunk. That sand is what gets churned up and is eventually coming back up to the beach,” Kirk said. “It was a good sign this weekend that so much of the beach was back. There was plenty of space for bathers and picnics and towels.”
Beach parking attendants began collecting fares on Memorial Day weekend, as usual, and pulled in $47,163 just this past weekend as the temperatures sprang into the high 80s. Over the past five years, the parking pull in by this time in the beach season has averaged at about $269,400, about another $47,500 higher than the take in so far this season.
As the 2012 fiscal year nears its close, the parking revenues for the year have slid comfortably past the $1.4 million projection, totaling in at over $1.5 million for the fiscal year. Still, the budget revenues for fiscal 2104, which begins next Monday, added just $50,000 to last year’s $1.4 million prediction.
Though Kirk has faced some criticism over an alleged tendency to under budget, she said she prefers to take the safe route, especially with the harder to predict beach fares.
“You never know,”Kirk said. “It’s completely weather dependent, and we never want to over estimate beach revenues because you just get into trouble if you do. We’d much rather have a little more on the bottom line than come up short.”
Two beach attendants working the stand at Good Harbor Friday said despite some windy and rainy days, they had only received one complaint, the woman had wanted a refund after spending a windy 15 minutes on the sand.
The attendants, Mark Haberland and Jack Doyle, said some “regulars” visit the beach daily. Beach staff collect $25 on weekends for each vehicle that parks at Good Harbor or Wingaersheek, excluding those with resident stickers. Non-residents who park at Stage Fort pay $15 on weekends.
While Wingaersheek brings in the most parking dollars, Good Harbor follows close behind, with each having pulled in six figures already this season.
Nina Palk and her daughter Emily headed to the Good Harbor Friday after the close of the school year at West Parish, where Emily completed fifth grade this year and where Nina works. The mom and daughter spent a “wonderful” afternoon at the beach, noticing only a slight change from last year.
“It was a little bit more of a drop off to the water,” Nina Palk said.
But some visiting Good Harbor for the first time found no erosion follies, including Leslie Eliet and her husband Dick Gaulton. The pair moved to Gloucester from Ithaca, N.Y., and have begun making the rounds to Gloucester’s beaches, visiting Good Harbor Friday.
Eliet wore a sunhat decorated with dragon fly pins, and the two sat as Gaulton wiped sand from his feet and strapped on his sandals.
“I liked it, very flat,” Gaulton said of the beach.
Eliet pointed out a bag of trash the pair had picked from Good Harbor during their visit, and said she actually preferred one of Gloucester’s more intimate beaches.
“My favorite’s Half Moon,” she said, smiling to Gaulton from beneath her floppy brim. “It’s a cute little one.”
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.