If you walk along the road that runs parallel to the Charlestown Town Beach, heading toward the breachway, you’ll find a town-owned public path that leads to the beach. Next to the path is sign that says “No Public Access.”
If you were to encounter this sign, what would you do? Most likely, you’d believe what the sign says to be true, and you’d take a different path to the beach.
But you might notice that this sign is placed just inside the private property of a homeowner next to the public way. The sign is aimed at the public path, and is clearly meant to keep people away from this public path by confusing them into thinking that it is private property.
That kind of obfuscation might be called out by the town, which owns the public path. But it was the town itself that erected the sign. On private property. What’s going on here?
I asked the Charlestown town administrator this question. That’s when I learned that it was the Town of Charlestown that actually put the sign there. When I expressed my incredulity, I was served a rationale that the town put the sign up because traffic was backing up as
beachgoers were dropped off and picked up at this path to the beach.
Besides the implausibility of this excuse, I would like to remind the town stewards that a public path is a public path, whether the next-door neighbors like it or not. A right of way on town-owned property should be available to the public to use. If traffic were indeed an issue, cars don’t even have to be involved; parking and dropping off can be prohibited, just like at other beach-access points. Along with that, bike racks could be erected to encourage cycling to the beach, as with the numerous paths to Crescent Beach on Block Island. People could even be encouraged to walk. But blocking access to public property with an aggressively misleading, prohibitive sign is wrong.
There has been a a lot of news regarding public access to our Rhode Island shoreline. Our current Charlestown Town Council, with the exception of Deb Carney, has given lip service to shoreline rights while working against public access. Part of why I’m running for Town Council is to protect the public’s right to their beach. I believe I speak for all Charlestown residents and all Rhode Island residents when I demand that this sign be removed, and that all of Charlestown’s public property be surveyed and appropriately presented as belonging to us, the people, not the moneyed interests that have been encroaching on what is not theirs.
Scott Keeley, Charlestown
The writer is a candidate for the Charlestown Town Council.
This article appeared as a Letter To the Editor in The Westerly Sun on October 18,2020.