Sand, sun, and a lake’s cool water are Martin Park’s beachy pleasures
Great Pond’s cooling waters lap a sandy shoreline at Ridgefield’s Martin Park Beach.
Amid the summer’s heat, it offers a refuge for swimmers — a sunny spot for tots with buckets and sand shovels, and an inflatable water slide for older kids who crave a quick ride ending with a big splash.
“We love it,” said Rosanna Maxwell, watching her young son, Connor, play with his shovel and a plastic teapot in the afternoon sun. “It’s the perfect time.”
Sure, there are pools in town: the Recreation Center and Barlow Mountain School have indoor pools; the Boys and Girls Club, as well as various neighborhood associations have outdoor pools, and many people have pools at their homes.
Still, the sandy-white beach on the dark waters of spring-fed Great Pond, with its five-acre surface area and mostly wooded shoreline, has a charm altogether different from what’s offered by the chlorinated aquamarine rectangles of suburban development.
At Martin Park on Thursday afternoon, Aug. 3, a couple of senior citizens could be seen out in the paddleboat, sun-worshipers were stretched out on big beach towels, and kids swam, splashed and yelled.
But moms and little children seemed the dominant demographic.
“It’s the best. We love it here,” said Dawn Vergilis, as her daughter Violet, 6, waded in the shallows along the shoreline. “She loves it — happy as a clam. And she’s in the water.”
Vergilis said she brings Violet to the beach “quite often, at least three times a week, minimum.” They generally stay quite a while — though sometimes they have to get home to care for their puppy.
“It depends,” Vergilis said. “We’re usually here almost three or four hours.”
Violet often plays with her beach buddy, Chase Manganiello, also 6.
“They actually met here,” said Chase’s mom, Joanne Manganiello.
They’re also Martin Park regulars.
“All the time. We love it,” Manganiello said.
Suzanne Safianoff said she and her son William, 23 months, stop by two or three times a week at the beach that they discovered after coming to Ridgefield from Harrison, N.Y.
“We just moved here in May,” she said.
While the toddlers enjoy the water’s edge, older kids swim out to one of four floats — docks made of plastic — out in the water.
“Yo! Guys, no pushing,” Lifeguard Jake Artzt yelled from his chair, raised like a watchtower overlooking the shore.
“They’re pretty well behaved,” he said of the kids. “Aside from telling them not to dive off the docks.”
Martin Park covers nine acres along the southwest shore of Great Pond. It was opened in 1953 by town benefactor Francis D. Martin — whose name it still carries. He donated it to the town in 1970 with a stipulation that the park be “self-supporting” through user fees rather than burdening taxpayers.
Martin Park Beach is open daily, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., from the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day.
The daily attendance varies, with a high this year of 450 on the Fourth of July, according to Joyce Dynia, the town’s wellness operations supervisor.
“We had some nice weather, so we were packed,” she said.
Attendance is very weather-dependent, with a low of 12 on “an overcast day” earlier this year. The park closes only if it rains.
“We do try and stay open for our members who just like to walk the beach,” Dynia said.
The town has sold 706 family memberships to Martin Park, according to Dynia.
Family memberships to Martin Park are $168 for Ridgefield residents and $250 for non-residents.
In August, with the season half over, the rate falls to $101 for residents and $140 for non-residents, said Kathy Fassman, the Parks and Recreation Department’s marketing supervisor.
Many memberships are sold in March, she added, when Recreation Center members can get family beach memberships for a pre-season rate of $99.
“Our goal is to encourage people to buy memberships, so the drop-in rate is $15 per person for residents and $20 per person for non-residents,” Fassman said.
People can get receipts when paying walk-in fees, and then apply them to the cost of memberships if they decide to join.
Ridgefield residents 60 years and older get free entry.
The number of lifeguards varies with the time of day.
“We bring in three in the morning and then when lunchtime comes we bring in more,” Dynia said.
The lifeguard contingent rises to four at noon, and six are working by 1 p.m.
Most afternoons there are seven or eight lifeguards on duty, Dynia said — four in the high chairs, one at the first aid station, and three working at either the inflatable slide or on the water mat, depending on which is open at the time.
“They don’t work a full shift. Guards will come in and work a six-hour shift, a four-hour shift,” Dynia said.
The staff includes three full-time people and 18 to 20 part-timers.
The lifeguards report to Hannah Egbert, town aquatics coordinator.
The afternoon crowd on Aug. 3 looked pretty typical for a weekday, Egbert said from her perch on the rocky plateau overlooking the beach on either side.
“About 50,” she said. “You get about 50 and maybe half will go in the water. You get a lot of moms who stand on the edge. The sand’s been a huge hit.”