WAUKEGAN, Ill. - Social distancing is becoming a problem at Illinois beaches as large crowds flock there during the pandemic, officials said.
Visitation guidelines have been changed at some Lake County beaches to accommodate visitors, some of whom are from Chicago, where beaches remain closed.
Bob Feffer, who has been a site manager at Illinois Beach State Park for 32 years, said he has not seen crowds like the ones during the weekends in July. The state park had about 15,000 visitors on July 25 and 26, the Lake County News-Sun reported.
“There were just too many people for social distancing to take place,” Feffer said. “Most of the people came from Chicago. Their beaches aren’t open, so they came here.”
The beach is no longer open on the weekends but only during the weekdays from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
David Motley, Waukegan’s director of marketing and public relations, said larger crowds were expected because people have been staying mostly indoors since March.
“There was a lot of pent-up demand for people looking to get out and do something in the area,” Motley said. “We already knew we could accommodate a large number.”
The beach was usually open from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m., but hours are now 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Waukegan residents can access the beach for free, but visitors must buy a car pass for $10 a day. Mayor Sam Cunningham said between 600 and 700 day passes were being sold on the weekends.
“We were afraid we weren’t going to be able to accommodate everyone,” Cunningham said. “This has been our busiest year. Compared with weekdays, we’re a lot busier on the weekends. We want people to be able to socially distance.”
Sally Swarthout, director of parks, recreation and forestry in Lake Forest, said in an email that crowds have been larger than usual this summer.
The beach is free to residents, but visitors must purchase a $25 day pass or a $910 season pass, according to the city website.
“Our patrons are being very responsible with social distancing,” Swarthout said. “The beach level is vast and we have been able to accommodate those that have wanted access to the lakefront to date.”