It started one Saturday this summer.
Traffic backed up near Compo Beach. Ed and Leslie Gallant waited a while to enter. Once past the gate, they had to hunt for a parking spot.
On the boardwalk, the couple — who moved to Westport in 1978, and enjoyed the beach all those years — noticed a non-stop stream of people. They wondered if a special event they had not heard of was going on.
The next day, Compo was even more crowded. Cars, people — it was crazy.
They mentioned the situation to their neighbor, Geralyn Breig. She’s been here 20 years — and she too noticed a change.
Breig and her husband own a Hobie Cat. But so many cars parked on the gravel lot where it was stored — while other vehicles blocked the boat ramp — that they could not get their boat in the water.
One of Breig’s sons works at Joey’s. He said the concession stand was packed too.
Nick Sadler is a more recent arrival in town. But he also thought Compo changed this summer. The friends all talked, and wondered what to do.
The Gallants and Breig attended a Parks and Recreation Commission open meeting at Town Hall. Breig read a statement, noting the interrelationship between increased crowds and more trash, messy bathrooms, drunkenness and more.
“All of those things impact the quality of the beach experience, including peace and courtesy,” Breig said. She urged the commission to look at Compo “holistically.”
The meeting grew divisive. The Gallants and Greig were discouraged.
As they talked, they and Sadler devised a plan. “We thought, ‘Let’s focus on goals,'” Breig says. “Let’s find a way to send feedback to the town leaders. They’ve got experts and lawyers. If we communicate our expectations in a friendly but strong way, they should be able to fix the problems.”
The ad hoc group went to work.
On Sunday, September 25, their website — Friends of Compo Beach — went live. Within days, it had thousands of views.
And hundreds of subscribers.
The site has 6 goals:
- Reduce crowds
- Fix the traffic problem
- Ensure parking for residents
- Enforce rules for public behavior and courtesy
- Ensure that services like boat ramps are accessible
- Restore a safe, clean, environmentally sound beach.
There are 3 steps to an “action plan”:
- Meet with town leaders to raise concerns
- Provide them with feedback on any of their solutions
- Organize residents to keep up activity until the situation is fixed.
“People care,” Leslie Gallant says of the near-instant positive reaction to the website.
While the internet can be a place of tangents, invective and ad hominem attacks, Gallant is pleased that “the vast majority of comments are on point about what we listed.”
Some of those comments came from Weston residents. They pay more for their beach sticker than Westporters, but less than other out-of-towners.
“Weston residents have long been welcome at Compo,” Breig notes. “We’ve never had a crowd problem before, so they’re probably not the issue.” Besides, she adds, “it’s not for us to answer how much they should pay. That’s for Parks & Rec to decide.”
“I feel so sorry for the Parks & Rec people at the front gate,” Gallant says. “There’s such a bottleneck there. They take all the heat. It just shows the strain on all our resources, when the numbers exploded this year.”
“We don’t want to be divisive,” Breig emphasizes. “We want to be constructive. We hope our voices are heard by the powers that be — town officials, Parks & Rec.”
It’s October. The beach opens officially — with Parks & Rec employees checking stickers and collecting fees — 7 months from now.
“We’re looking for fair solutions — and swift action,” Gallant says.
(Click here for the Friends of Compo Beach website.)