Why do we pay to play at the Charlotte Beach? 


By Emma Slater | The Charlotte News

While working at Charlotte Beach, attendants are often asked how they discovered such a sweet job for the summer. Spending the day on the waterfront of Lake Champlain, listening to children playing and watching the sun set across the Adirondacks sounds heavenly to most Vermonters. However, beach attendants have other responsibilities behind the scenes and field more challenging questions, such as, “Why do residents have to pay to use public property?”

The Town of Charlotte first began charging a fee for beach parking during the 1970s when the beach was discovered as an excellent site for windsurfing. Windsurfers flooding into the swimming area created a safety issue, which was brought to the attention of the Selectboard when a windsurfer filed a lawsuit due to injury. Judy Tuttle approached the Selectboard about employing beach attendants to monitor the area.

“Having someone on site, as the beach became more and more popular, seemed like an obvious thing to do,” said Bill Fraser-Harris, chair of the Charlotte recreation commission.

Although the windsurfing craze has passed, the beach is still used for a variety of different activities including swimming, kayaking, picnicking, frisbee, disc golf and tennis. The cost of a season beach pass is now $20 for residents and $40 for non-residents for the first car, and $5 for each car after. Day passes are also available during the operating hours of 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

A beach attendant’s job includes clean-up of green spaces and maintenance of the bathhouse area. Keeping this area presentable for the town is an important customer service, according to recreation coordinator, Nicole Conley. It’s also a great summer work opportunity for local students who have limited options in the area. This season there are five Charlotte students employed at the beach. Conley also noted that the parking passes fund the annual installation and maintenance of the dock and rafts, which starts at $5,000.

This parking pass system is designed to be a zero budget item, and reflects the town’s interest in a “pay to play” approach to funding.

“The town is leaning in the direction of a fee for service model,” said Fraser-Harris. “People who use the beach pay a small fee to maintain the quality of services that are provided.” This means that residents who choose not to use the beach are not charged for seasonal amenities, and that non-residents, such as large groups from New York and Canada, help pay to maintain the property as well. Of the first car passes sold this season, about 17% were purchased by non-residents.

This is the key difference between Charlotte Beach and other local areas like Shelburne Beach. In Shelburne, a season pass costs $25.00 for the first car and $5.00 for each car after, with a discount for seniors. Unlike Charlotte, Shelburne Beach was a privately owned property donated to the town with a stipulation that it is to be used only by residents. Charlotte Beach was purchased using public funds, a noteworthy difference, according to Fraser-Harris. “We do try to model ourselves a little after Shelburne from a service perspective,” he said, “but the public has to realize that they are a completely separate form of ownership and management.”

Although each town has slightly different policies to fit their management goals, the pass system in Charlotte is consistent other local beaches. Charlotte residents and their friends from across the lake are fortunate to be able enjoy a beautiful slice of shoreline, and expanding opportunities for recreation on the green.