First, the state beaches were closed. Then the parking lots and public bathrooms. Then the gate to the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge was closed and locked. And finally, after too many people couldn’t resist a walk on Plum Island or Salisbury Beach on a sunny day, pretty much every available parking spot was coned off, roped off or blocked by metal gates. 

The governor and mayors, town managers and health agents from Rockport to the boardwalk in Salisbury urged people to stay home. Social distancing and other safe practices become much harder to observe when hordes of visitors turn out for a stroll. Two weeks ago, Newbury and Newburyport police were kept busy writing tickets and warning people out on Plum Island. Last weekend, Rockport police issued 36 tickets to cars parked illegally along Granite Street when visitors flocked to nearby Halibut Point State Park, which is closed. 

Halibut Point was typical. The parking lot was closed to the public and police posted “No parking” signs along the road leading to it, but still the visitors came. 

Summer-like weather throws open the doors of households facing cabin fever; claustrophobic families and singles venture outside, seeking an escape and some exercise to shake off the pandemic gloom.

It might seem like this will never end and an escape to the beach or the woods can come only by sneaking past barriers and risking parking tickets. But that’s not true. Gloucester Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken reopened public landings and boat ramps in her city on Tuesday – with very strict rules. Besides urging social distancing, masks and common sense, the city said ramps are limited to Massachusetts residents, traffic control lanes will be set up, boaters can’t “raft” together to chat, only people who share a home are allowed on the same boat – and the list goes on. 

There is a light at the end of the tunnel and Gloucester officials are taking one small step that might show the way, if everyone lives by these important — and potentially lifesaving — rules. Only controlled reopenings of public areas and businesses – with clear guidelines that everyone follows — will get us safely back on track.

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