PORT STANLEY, ONT. -- In our region of Lake Erie, it’s the most popular beach around.

And even with grey skies, those longing to enjoy the sand and lakefront at Port Stanley finally got their chance Monday morning.

The beach opened with physical distancing signs clearly posted on the sand, and along the roadways leading to it.

“They wanted to come at 12:01 this morning,” stated Amy Campbell, who brought her children along for an early swim.

“We’ve been counting the days," adds Tara McGinnis, who along with her son and daughter were among the first on the beach before 9 a.m.

All were greeted by the large signs clearly stating COVID-19 regulations, including physical distancing and no group games on the beach.

Central Elgin Mayor Sally Martyn says that applies to group socializing, where 10 people is the maximum.

“It’s not like 10 here and 10 there. The bubble means 10 people in your group."

Martyn says those who do not comply will face warnings and potential fines reaching $875.

Bylaw officers will be joined in their beach patrols by volunteer firefighters and lifeguards.

All the measures are necessary and welcomed by businesses along the beach, including Mackie’s operator, Greg Lale, who was out front before opening surveying the crowd.

“I mean it’s odd to look out and see people when it’s been so long since you seen anybody out there."

While Lale acknowledges there’s a risk inviting people from all over back into town, he hopeful the new protocols will put businesses at ease, both medically and financially.

“Hopefully everybody can understand things are going to be a little different than what they used to be. But it’s better than nothing.”

For businesses on the other side of the Port Stanley lift bridge, the return of beachgoers is exciting news, but perhaps not enough to boost their sales.

The lift bridge remains under construction, and will be until 2021, leaving many cafes, stores and shops somewhat severed from arriving day-trippers. Currently, traffic is being rerouted around the downtown via Warren Street and Carlow Road.

Alana Schikor of the Art & Soul Cafe believes tourists will find their way around to join the many locals who frequent the businesses downtown.

Back at the beach, Nicole Buckham is - literally - trying to send a positive message.

Sitting on her beach blanket she was busy writing messages on small rocks, from “COVID SUCKS!" to “We will get through this!”

She plans to leave them along pathways to boost people’s spirits.

“This COVID has really affected a lot of people’s mental state. A positive word or smile can make the difference."

Other area beaches also opening

In addition to Main Beach and Little Beach in Port Stanley, Central Elgin had announced June 12 that that they planned to reopen beaches Monday in conjunction with neighbouring municipalities.

In Port Burwell the public beach was set to open Monday as well, however the beach at the provincial park has already been opened for day use.

Long Point saw the opening of its public beaches over the weekend with many people taking advantage of the sunny hot weather.

Grand Bend was also eyeing an opening date for Monday but officials warned it was not definite.

- WIth files from CTV's Justin Zadorsky