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As Beachgoers Flock to Jenness, Parking Becomes Flashpoint

Todd Bookman/NHPR

In New Hampshire, you have to pack a lot of summer into a pretty short window. Combine that with a tiny coastline, and a sunny weekend often results in throngs of beachgoers. The Jenness Beach area in Rye can get especially clogged, and that’s led to a lot of hand-wringing over parking, safety and access this summer, with one little street caught in the middle.

On a sunny day, the intersection of Perkins Road and Ocean Boulevard in Rye is busy with cars, beachgoers in various states of dress, and sunblock-slick children lugging boogie boards. 

Landing a prime parking spot in the Jenness Beach lot is unlikely.

“Those days are going to be busy. Just like when New York plays the Red Sox, guess what, Boston is gonna be busy,” says Ryan McGill, who along with his brother Tyler owns Summer Sessions surf shop, which sits at the intersection. 

Both McGill brothers have homes on Perkins Road, a two-lane street with no sidewalks. Given its prime location, vehicles that can’t find a spot in the small beach lot may try to grab one of the free parking spaces on the south side of the street. 

Some of the residents on Perkins say the overflow beach traffic, cars turning around in their driveways--and sometimes blocking the driveways--has reached a breaking point. The road, to them, doesn’t feel safe anymore.

“There are people that drive really fast,” Sara O’Brien, a Perkins Road resident, told the Rye Board of Selectmen during a recent meeting. “That has nothing to do with surfing, they are just going too fast, and you’d be hit.” 

Credit Todd Bookman/NHPR
Parking is allowed on the south side of Perkins Road in Rye.

Town officials have wrestled with parking issues in this tourist town for years. Commissions have been created, traffic engineers hired, and some residents have taken the matter into their own hands, illegally putting out cones or even installing very realistic but very unofficial ‘No Parking’ signs. 

Perkins Road is just the most recent flashpoint. 

“We could not sleep at night if a young child or adult person were hit on that road. It would be on our shoulders to carry forever. We’re not going to do that,” said Rye Selectboard Chair Philip Winslow. 

This summer, after months of discussion and input, the Board approved what it considers a compromise solution. Rather than banning parking on Perkins outright or making it resident-sticker only, town officials agreed to paint ‘No Parking’ boxes on either side of the three driveways closest to the beach, extending 10 feet in either direction. The sight lines give residents more visibility when they are pulling in and out.

“The issue is safety, and the issue is safety, and the issue is safety. That’s the reason we’re doing it,” explained Winslow.

Losing this handful of parking spaces on Perkins Road isn’t sitting well with everyone. 

“All you have to do is say the word ‘safety,’ and you can basically legislate your way out of anything,” says Josh Lanzetta, an attorney who volunteers for the Surfrider Foundation, which advocates for public access to the ocean.  

Credit Todd Bookman/NHPR

“This is about beach access because parking is beach access. We don’t ride bikes, we don’t ride scooters, we don’t ride horses, we drive cars, and we have to be able to park them somewhere in order to get to the beach,” he says. 

Lanzetta points out there have been no reported accidents and no pedestrians struck on Perkins in recent years. So labelling it a safety issue, to him, doesn’t hold water.

Of course, 60 feet of parking isn’t much in the grand scheme. There are still hundreds of parking spots along the coast in Rye, many of them free.

But Ryan McGill says the ordinance creates a precedent for neighboring side streets.

“It isn’t just Perkins. If we take away 60 feet here, then where does it stop?” 

After all, humans are territorial: about their driveways, about their streets, and their ocean. 

“I think something that happens is, when you live in a community you tend to start using words like ‘my’ beach, or ‘my’ mountain, or ‘my’ lake, and you are protective of it in a good way,” says Tyler McGill, co-owner of the surf shop. “But I think people lose track of the fact that they’re public trust lands. They are something we are all able to enjoy not just because you have a resident sticker.”

Ultimately, it will be the residents who get final say on the Perkins Road parking ordinance. The new rules are just temporary. Voters will weigh in on a permanent version next March during Town Meeting, when snow may blanket the sand.

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University.
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