By Lauren Wanko
The rain didn’t keep tourists away from Island Beach State Park this morning. Jersey native John Vannortwick is eager to get back on the beach. Today marks the first day the state park is fully operational since Sandy hit.
“It’s a part of my heritage and I’m so glad that they were able to get this place back to normal the way it should be,” Vannortwick said.
“It seems like just yesterday that it was eight months and a few weeks that Sandy hit and there was no playbook that we had that said, ‘Here’s what you do when your park is completely overwhelmed by 11 feet of water and the largest storm in recorded history hits your park,” said Director of State Park Service Mark Texel.
Island Beach State Park is one of at leasts 20 New Jersey state parks hit hard by Sandy. Five to six foot sand drifts covered roadways. The boardwalks were wiped out along with lifeguard stations and other structures in the park were damaged resulting in about $1 million worth of recovery costs. The park began reopening in stages this past winter. The goal was to be fully operational by July 4. Today beach-goers headed for the water on the new boardwalks.
As for the park’s dune system, “Superstorm Sandy did compromise the dunes within Island Beach State Park. The primary dune, which is the eastern most face of the dunes had sustained a lot of damage through wave energy. But it absorbed it and basically preserved the rest of the dune system throughout the park and the barrier island and ultimately the bay,” said Park Manager Ray Bukowski.
Throughout the winter, park officials and volunteers began a dune restoration project. Officials here say throughout the summer, wind-driven sand will continue to accumulate and build the dunes naturally.
Bukowski says he doesn’t want today’s event to overshadow the fact that so many New Jersey residents are still rebuilding and struggling since the storm.
“This just allows people the opportunity to recreate when they can and it also makes sure that we have our facility open to help drive the local economy and the folks who depend upon the tourism that comes through town. It’s all a big piece of the puzzle,” Bukowski said.
More than 1 million tourists visit Island Beach State Park every year. Park officials are counting on those tourists to return this season.
“Island Beach State Park is one of the parks — it may be our only park in the State Park Service — where the revenue we collect from day use and beach passes and buggy passes and other sources covers our operating costs. So this park is sustainable,” said Texel.
Judging by the beach-goers huddled under their umbrellas hoping to dodge today’s raindrops, tourists seem eager to revisit to the park. The rest is up to Mother Nature.