'Nothing like we've ever seen:' Memorial Day crowds at reopened Lake Geneva beach 'raise concern'

LAKE GENEVA -- It was a busy Memorial Day weekend in Lake Geneva -- after the city council voted to reopen Riviera Beach in time for the holiday weekend. Crowds and cars weaved their way along the Lake Geneva lakefront as boats tooled about and beachgoers soaked up the sun -- sights and sounds synonymous with summer in the southeast Wisconsin tourist town.

"It feels like the way it should be," said Mary Ellen Coelen of Glenview, Illinois.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, you'd be hard pressed to find any signs of it here.

Kelly from Beloit

"I guess social distancing is out the window," said Kelly from Beloit, who did not want to share his last name. "I mean, people want to live. People just want to live, man."

With signs urging social distancing present, mask wearing was near non-existent.

Mary Ellen and Rick Coelen

"We're back in a time warp," said Rick Coelen of Glenview, Illinois.

"It's like I woke up from a bad dream," said Mary Ellen Coelen.

The Coelens spent the day away from their Illinois home -- not concerned about COVID-19. Mary Ellen works in a senior living community.

"So when I'm at work I wear a mask, I go home," said Mary Ellen Coelen. "My routine hasn't really changed, except that I'm inside when I go home, but now that the weather's nice, I want to be able to get out and enjoy it."

Riviera Beach reopened in time for Memorial Day weekend after a contentious 4-3 vote by the Lake Geneva City Council followed by the resignation of its longtime manager over public safety concerns.

Linda Frame

"It's been nothing like we've ever seen," said Linda Frame, harbor master. "We started out as if it was going to be a normal day, but we maxed out by 10:30 this morning to 300."

The crowds heightened Frame's concerns.

"It raises concerns for my staff and everybody around them," said Frame. "We're educating people, keep reminding them to please back up."

Local tourism leaders said without this holiday weekend, many businesses might not have recovered -- and there's a balance between educating people and the needs of businesses to stay afloat.

"For people in the tourism business, this kind of sets the tone for the rest of the year," said Stephanie Klett, Visit Lake Geneva president and CEO. "It's a complicated issue, but you hope you have people that will do the right thing."

City officials said they expect Memorial day to be as busy as the rest of the weekend, hoping, though, that people continue to take precautionary measures not only to protect themselves, but most importantly, others, as well.