Choppy Start

The Weather's Not the Only Thing Raining on Seattle Beach Season

A crackdown on crime and a lifeguard shortage are also cramping dreams of a sandy summer.

By Taylor McKenzie Gerlach June 14, 2022

Paddleboarders brave the chilly waves at Golden Gardens beach.

Paddleboarders brave the chilly waves at Golden Gardens beach. 

Hot off a gloomy spring and halfway through a dreaded Juneuary, the thirst for a raincoat-free day lake- or oceanside is very real.

But even once sunny skies return, a couple of recent announcements by Seattle Parks and Recreation are cramping dreams of floatie swimming and firelight volleyball at some of our city beaches.

First came the news that two sunset-watching magnets, Golden Gardens and Alki Beach, will shut down at 10pm through September 4, a cut back from the typical 11:30pm closing time of years past.

The truncated hours arrived in response to dangerous and illegal late-night activities on these beaches—incidents that cropped up last summer as Covid vaccines became widely available and restrictions eased, encouraging more Seattleites to venture outside their protected bubbles.

At Alki Beach last year over Memorial Day weekend, police made three arrests in response to a robbery, multiple fights, and assaults. Officers also responded to a heavily intoxicated teen (alcohol is banned on Seattle’s public beaches). In June 2021, two people were injured in a road rage shooting just south of Golden Gardens, while one person was killed and three injured in an Alki Beach shooting. Much of the violence followed large gatherings advertised on TikTok and other social media, prompting more police presence in areas expecting unruly crowds.

Were these throwdowns born from post-pandemic angst? According to Seattle Parks and Recreation communications manager Rachel Schulkin, officials are “not sure if these parties are a trend that’s here to stay or not. But violence at these parks was happening prior to the pandemic, and these parks have been some of the busiest parks in the city during the summer prior to the pandemic.”

Parks workers are hoping that the reduced hours this summer will lead to less violence. Starting at 9:30pm on weekend evenings, Seattle Parks staff and cops will patrol the shoreline, toting buckets of water to extinguish campfires and asking beachgoers to clear the sand by 10pm. When asked if officers plan to arrest those unwilling to leave, Schulkin said via an email that the department is “aiming for voluntary compliance.”

In addition to the two popular spots closing just after Seattle’s late sunsets have sapped the last light, three other local beaches are shuttered for the season due to—stop us if you’ve heard this before—a staffing shortage. Because the department couldn’t hire enough trained, experienced lifeguards, Matthews Beach, Seward Park Beach, and East Green Lake Beach will remain closed throughout the summer, further limiting outdoor recreation options in the name of safety.

While the lifeguard staffing shortage will (hopefully) fade with the next class of tan-seeking college kids, the 10pm beach closures at Golden Gardens and Alki Beach may become permanent. After the pilot period is complete in September, the department will review data collected and host a public comment session at a Board of Parks and Recreation Commissioner meeting. During the summer pilot, the public can also provide feedback here on the prospective changes.

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