PLATTSBURGH — Last Saturday’s blistering weather drew record numbers to the City Beach.
“It was packed,” lifeguard Brin Keyser said. “It was so crowded that if you looked down the beach, you could hardly see any sand, there was so many people.”
A total of 1,229 vehicles came to the beach Saturday, the most in one day that Recreation Director Steve Peters can remember since he took over in 2008.
Saturday’s temperatures soared into the 90s for the third day in a row. It was not the only busy day of the summer, as people have been flocking to the beach all season so far to cool down from the remarkably high mercury marks.
“It all depends on the weather from here on out, but we are on pace for our best season in recent memory,” Peters said.
So far this season, the beach has brought in almost $18,000 in revenue, with about 17,000 visitors. The numbers have already exceeded the $15,000 in revenue and just under 15,000 visitors for all of 2008.
City and Town of Plattsburgh residents get into the beach for free, and everyone else pays $5 per car load.
With about seven weeks of beach season left, Peters said, the numbers are looking good, though they could be hard to maintain.
“Early in the season, if it is 79 degrees, a lot of people might think it’s a great day to go to the beach. But later on in the season, they might get a little complacent, and if it is only something like 82 degrees, they might not bother,” he said.
“And, of course, the weather determines a lot.”
Aside from lying in the sun or taking a dip in the cool waters of Lake Champlain, the beach offers other opportunities. A co-ed beach volleyball league, mini-triathalons, a fitness boot camp, beach Zumba and beach turbokick classes have been added this summer.
Also, Smooth Moves is back serving cold drinks and hot food, as is the Kayak Shack, renting kayaks.
Another attraction this year is the Cabana Beach Bar, which serves beer and other alcoholic beverages, many of the frozen variety.
“It was crazy busy last Saturday. The best day by far,” Cabana Bar General Manager Greg Larson said.
“It’s what we wish for.”
Of the visitors so far this year, Peters said that about 54 percent are city or town residents, and around 36 percent are Canadians. The rest are locals from out of town or other states.
Randy Bellin, 26, grew up in Plattsburgh and moved to Florida several years ago. He is spending this summer back in town and goes to the beach just about every day.
“I’ve never seen anything like it was here on Saturday,” he said. “Not even when I was a kid.”
He and many of his co-workers at Texas Roadhouse often spend time at the beach relaxing.
“It’s just a great place to hang out,” he said.
Bellin’s friend Sandra Sartelle, 24, has been living in the area for about five years, after moving from Vermont. She said the beach upgrades have helped a lot.
“And it really is a great place to swim because you can go out quite far and it still is pretty shallow,” she said.
The schools of swimmers kept lifeguard Keyser and her colleagues on their toes on Saturday.
“We had three swimming sections open and six lifeguards working, and it was very busy, but it was under control,” lifeguard Adam Emery said.
The guards rotate every 30 minutes to keep fresh. It was so busy Saturday that the beach stayed open an extra half hour, until 7:30 p.m.
Lifeguard Lauren Malone said that to many of the Quebec visitors, a trip to “la plage” is a big deal.
“The No. 1 question is: Is this the ocean?” she said with a laugh.
No, it is not the ocean, but Lake Champlain sure is attracting visitors like an ocean, Peters said.
The city printed 2,000 passes for city and town residents, and normally they have about 500 left over.
“But we’ve run out of them already,” Peters said.
The city gave 500 passes to the town, and they have used up about 350 of them. Peters said the city took back about 100 of the town passes and hopes that will be enough for the rest of the season.
But even with the great numbers posted so far, the city has a ways to go to beat the figures of a generation ago.
Records culled from Press-Republican archives show that 1983 was the busiest year in the past 30 years, with about 115,000 people flocking to the City Beach. In 1987, another hot summer, 101,141 people visited to the beach.
But since 1983, those were the only two years that attendance figures topped 100,000. Records before 1983 were not available.
Peters noted that Plattsburgh Air Force Base was in full operation back in the 1980s and that residents had fewer options to cool off when temperatures soared.
“Backyard pools were probably not as popular as they are now, and not everybody had air conditioning,” he said.
“Plus, there are a lot other things people can do now.”
ICE STORM DELAYS
The worst year for the beach was in 1998, when only 22,519 people took to the sand. That summer was wet and cold, and the beach area was reduced due to debris from the Ice Storm that January. The season was also shortened because the beach opened late due to cleanup of debris.
The Gathering of the Vibes, a three-day concert held at the beach in June that year, attracted about one-quarter of the beach visitors for 1998.
“The only thing that saved us was the Gathering of the Vibes,” then Recreation Director Byron Bissonette told the Press-Republican.
Peters said that while it is probably not realistic to think the city can ever again attain those fantastic numbers of the 1980s, it can try.
“There are a lot of things we’ve done to make it better, and there are more things we can do and will do,” he said.
“And if the weather stays hot, that’s great.”
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