Beach day at Great Pond? Ridgefield’s Martin Park is for town residents only this year
Great Pond, deep and clean, with its spring-fed water and sandy Martin Park Beach, has offered Ridgefielders a refuge from summer heat for more than half a century. It continues to do that — although under tightened rules, with a capacity limited to about 160 people — in this summer of COIVD-19.
“It’s been relatively quiet, which is really great,” said Parks and Recreation Director Dennis DiPinto. “I talk to my waterfront director on a daily basis and things have been well in hand.
“We’re using that 160-ish for a maximum and it’s worked out really well. It’s a number we can effectively manage, in terms of keeping people — on sand areas, and in the water — keeping people socially distanced and safe,” he said.
“We only reached capacity one time for about an hour, so far.”
The number of people at the beach is controlled mostly by limiting the amount of parking, he said.
Martin Park opened on June 15 — a couple of weeks later than its traditional Memorial Day weekend start.
“In a typical year we sell about 650 passes to various families and individuals,” DiPinto said. “This year we have seen about a 20 percent reduction in passes sold.”
There are some added practices and protocols.
“All patrons must wear a mask into and out of the park,” DiPinto said. “Patrons may remove masks when they go in the water, or are on their blanket or chair.
“Fifteen-foot separation minimum for all groups of people on the beach,” DiPinto said.
“Social distancing is enforced by beach staff as required — most patrons have been very responsive.”
What’s being offered has been cut back.
“Some things you won’t see at the beach this year,” he said.
“The floats are not in the water — there’s just a buoyed area for swimming.
“As of right now boat rentals, we’re not doing,” he added.
The “zoom flume” also isn’t in use.
And while in the past people could just drop in and pay a one-time visitor’s fee at the gate — last year the fee was $15 for Ridgefielders, $20 for non-residents — that’s no longer happening.
“Beach is available to members only, no drop-ins or guests this year.”
When memberships were first offered back in the winter, some non-residents joined as they do most years, DiPinto said. But since the COVID-19 situation made it clear that social distancing would limit the numbers of people allowed at the beach, memberships have been limited to Ridgefield residents.
Memberships are still available.
Becoming a member costs $112 for a family pass for the season, and $91 for an individual.
Ridgefielders age 60 or older may enter for free, but they do have to show age and residency information at the front gate, DiPinto said.
Parks and Recreation management also keeps a record of who’s been at the beach.
“All patrons are tracked daily (for tracing purposes if needed),” DiPinto said.
“The new automated check-in system allows us to keep tabs on anyone who’s been in at the beach in a day, so if there was a positive case,” everyone who’d been there that day could be contacted.
Changing rooms and restrooms are cleaned throughout the day as part of the staff rotation.
“We’re doing business essentially differently from the way we used to,” DiPinto said.
Fully staffed the pond has a crew of six, plus a site supervisor on duty.
It’s open seven days a week, 10 a.m. to 6:45 p.m., so the beach has a sizable summer workforce.
“We have to carry a fair amount. They’re all part-timers,” DiPinto said. “We’re in the 35 people range, between lifeguards and gate guards.”
Great Pond has a surface area of about five acres and has been measured at 34 feet deep, so it is likely the town’s deepest body of water. It was known to be used for fishing by the native population, and the use of its water by colonists for a grist mill dates back to the late 1700s — as does the name “Great Pond.” Although the pond and its water flow were controlled by the Gilbert and Bennett wire mill in Georgetown for many years, the beach which today bears his name was owned by the late Francis D. Martin — who allowed its use as a town beach in the 1950s and ’60s. He donated the beach to the town in 1970.