Parents who load the kids in the car to cool off at Woodlawn Beach State Park after a long day of work and folks looking to enjoy a beer or margarita as the sun sets at the beach may have a surprise when they get to the Hamburg gate this summer.
They’re going to have to pay for admission. For the last few years, it had been free after 5 p.m.
The Town of Hamburg, which operates the park, charges $7 per car from 9 a.m. until 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The fee is charged until 5:30 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday. A couple weeks ago, the town was charging until 6 p.m. or later.
Lifeguards are on duty until 7:45 p.m., according to the beach.
The town needs to charge more to pay for the bands it is bringing in three days a week, Supervisor Steven Walters said.
“We made the decision a couple years ago to not charge after 5. This year, we felt it was in the best interest of the park to charge those extra hours,” he said.
The town can charge what it wants at the beach, according to New York State, which owns the park.
“Our contract with the Town of Hamburg provides State Parks with the right to approve rates; however, it is not required as we wanted to give the town the ability to manage the property as it sees fit,” said state Parks spokeswoman Angela Berti.
If it’s raining, the town does not keep staff there to collect a fee, and admission is not charged, Walters said.
Raising revenue helps the park, he said.
“If we bring in more revenue, we’re able to bring more amenities to the park. If we bring more amenities to the park, more people come, and we bring in more revenue,” Walters said.
There’s no question the park has been successful in attracting visitors.
The recent searing hot weather has brought thousands of people to the mile-long beach, and Sunday a record number of cars — 1,155 — was recorded. While it’s difficult to determine how many people were at the park, it could have been as high as 4,600 if there were four people per car.
However, overall attendance is running a bit behind last year, because of the rainy June, Walters said.
An informal survey Tuesday between 5 and 5:30 p.m. counted a dozen or more cars passing through the gate at Woodlawn paying the $7 fee. Among those was Long Island native Jake Reichert and friends from Cornell University. All are in Buffalo Niagara for internships this summer and said that although they paid the money without protest Tuesday, it was a little annoying.
“Definitely, not cool,” Reichert said. “At the Long Island beaches, the state parks, you don’t have to pay starting after 5.”
But Nae David of Buffalo had a different perspective. David, who arrived about 5:20 p.m. with a carload of two other women and several children, was OK with the flat, per-car fee – even if it was later in the day. The temperature at the time was still north of 90 degrees.
“It doesn’t bother me because at another beach you have to pay for every person in the car,” said David, referring to the fee policy at Sunset Bay. “And, the price goes up as the day goes on.”
It’s not only some families going to the beach after 5 p.m. who are surprised to learn they must pay admission.
Tucker Curtin, who operates Woody’s Beach Club and Taqueria, which is located in the park, said he has heard from his customers who are upset at the fee. The web page for the venue even warns customers about the $7 fee.
Curtin also accuses the town of treading on his exclusive rights to sell food and alcoholic beverages. He’s upset that some of the town’s actions, such as having another vendor provide food and beverages, charging after 5 p.m. and the type of bands employed, are hurting his business.
“My passion is to get people on the waterfront,” said Curtin, who also runs Dug’s Dive on Fuhrmann Boulevard.
Curtin’s lawyer issued a “cease and desist” letter to the town July 1, asserting Woody’s exclusive right under its lease to operate in the areas near the taqueria and part of the beach. The town erected a large tent that encroaches on Woody’s area and has spikes that are a hazard, Curtin said.
His lease allows him to use the pavilion, but Curtin said he has been told another vendor has received a permanent liquor license for that area.
The letter demanded the town stop charging for parking after 5 p.m. and develop a protocol for special events, but Curtin has since softened his stand.
“We’ve been trying to meet with him since before the Fourth of July weekend,” Curtin said of Walters. “Finally they sent us a letter back.”
The letter from the town, which he received late last week, said he was late on his rent, and had used town driftwood for a beach fire, Curtin said.
Walters said Curtin has never aired his dispute with him.
“It’s somewhat disappointing that Tucker is trying to resolve issues in the media rather than acting like a professional and resolving any issues,” Walters said.
Curtin has a three-year contract with renewal options that would extend it to 12 years. He pays a $4,000 base rent, plus 2 percent of his gross sales to the town. The town has notified him the base rent will be going up 20 percent next year.
“Things have changed since the first time we put the deal out there,” Curtin said. “I’m willing to work with them.”
He said if the bands perform next year, he would like to have input into the type of music that is chosen.
News Staff Reporter T.J. Pignataro contributed to this report.