There's now an app for parking at Sound View Beach
May 26—OLD LYME — Two day-trippers from central Massachusetts were the first to test out a new web-enabled payment system that was rolled out Friday in anticipation of the unofficial start of summer at Sound View Beach.
Vanessa Van Oostveen and Janina Cepek, of Westfield, said the small strip of public beach at the end of Hartford Avenue is the most convenient destination at one hour and 15 minutes from home. It's the first beach they reach from the highway.
They had mixed reactions to the new hourly rates posted on a temporary sign in front of the municipal lot. It was affixed to the defunct payment kiosk that will remain until the permanent signs arrive and the kiosk can be hauled away.
Parking in the town lot or on the street will cost $7.50 for the first two hours. Every hour after that will be $9.50 on weekends and $6.50 on weekdays.
"It's not terrible, if you're not paying for an entire day at the beach," Van Oostveen said. "If you're local and you're only coming for two or three hours, that ends up pretty reasonable."
Cepek said beachgoers can pay less and get more at Ocean Beach in New London, which costs $30 for a carload of up to five people on weekdays and $35 on weekends.
"But for a quick trip on a weekday with my girlfriends, it's a good spot," she said about Soundview.
They had help figuring out the new payment system from Resident State Trooper Matt Weber as he directed them to a barcode on the temporary sign. They both used their phones to scan the code so they could get to the new payment application.
Cepek typed in the numbers for the parking spot, license plate and her credit card. She waited for the Passport program to calculate her payment. Then the app dinged.
"Boom," she said, announcing the $33.60 price tag for six hours.
She called it a terrible price for a tiny little beach
"Can I afford it? Yeah. Will I do again? Probably," she said.
The same weekday trip last year would've cost $45, or $30 for a half-day of five hours or less. The weekend price tag was $75 for a full day and $45 for a half day.
Old Lyme residents can park for free along the street and in the municipal lot if they purchase a $30 annual pass.
Stephanie Livesy, manager of The Pavilion beach bar, said hourly rates with the first hour essentially free add much-needed flexibility that benefit visitors and businesses.
"Before we only had a half day and full day, so if you were here for five hours and one minute, then automatically it was $75. That's way too much for a family," she said.
She said the framework makes it possible for people to come to the area for reasons other than sitting on the beach, like getting lunch or watching a band. It could also open up options when bad weather would otherwise shut down the area.
"On a rainy day, it's still a nice place to sit and have lunch," she said. "People still go to Mystic in the rain. They still go to Watch Hill in the rain or on cloudy days, because there's other things besides the beach."
Several private lots on nearby streets offer parking at their own rates. The annual permit fee for lot operators last year went from $30 per spot to $85 per spot.
The fees for public parking and private permits go toward expenses including police and beach ranger coverage, portable toilets and maintenance. Officials have said every 14-week summer season costs the town roughly $230,000.
Up Hartford Avenue, business owner Dino DiNino said he wasn't surprised the parking situation has changed again.
"I've been here 20 years, and the most consistent thing is the inconsistency," he said.
He said the number of parking spaces decreased with each passing year until there were none left to take. Then the prices went up. He said the changes have discouraged business and resulted in a decline in family-friendly options on the street. He has since given up on trying to entice day-trippers who are only in town for a few hours for the beach to walk as far as the crepe shop and arcade he operates with his wife.
DiNino said the hours are set from 8 a.m. to noon at Crepes on the Corner and 6 to 9 p.m. at Captain Video Arcade to appeal to cottage owners and weekly renters instead of day-trippers.
Two parking spaces in the grass-and-gravel municipal lot were cordoned off Friday morning where a brown and white bird with two black rings across its chest sat on the painted line separating the two spots.
Weber identified the bird as a killdeer discovered two days' prior.
"Over in our parking lot every couple years we have killdeer birds," he said. "They nest on the ground and they stay there for a couple weeks and the mom protects the eggs."
The Audubon Society describes the killdeer as a type of plover that can live over open land on the water's edge or in pastures and fields far from water. Parents incubate their eggs for 24-28 days, with the young leaving the nest shortly after hatching.
"We're going to give these two parking spaces to her," he said.