By Lauren Wanko
Lots of folks along the Jersey Shore stick to a routine, especially when it comes to their strolls or jogs on the boardwalk. John and Trisha Armitage walked four miles every day in Spring Lake, until Sandy completely destroyed the two-mile stretch of boardwalk.
“It was devastating,” said Trisha Armitage of Brielle. “It was like your life was taken away because you couldn’t do the things you normally would do, get up and get out.”
But today the Armitages are up and out. That’s because two-thirds of the boardwalk is rebuilt and the Spring Lake Department of Public Works crews are on the job — 10 hours a day, six days a week.
“Our boardwalk will be completely finished by Memorial Day weekend and there will be access to the beach,” said Spring Lake Mayor Jennifer Naughton. “As you can see by looking from the beach, the debris has been cleared. It will be clean and safe, the water will be clean and safe.”
This isn’t the first time crews reconstructed Spring Lake’s boardwalk. Half of it was lost to Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011. Still Mayor Naughton feels fortunate. After Sandy, the majority of the boardwalk’s foundation was in place.
“We have concrete pilings that date back to the WPA in the 1930s and most of those pilings were still intact,” Naughton said.
Almost all of Ocean Avenue is open to traffic, along with beachfront hotels and restaurants like the Black Trumpet where 70 to 80 percent of business comes from summer tourists.
“We rely on the summer tourists very much and I have a feeling that Jersey will support its own,” said restaurant owner Mark Mikolajczyk.
Still, Mikolajczyk worries some people have the wrong idea about what life is like in Spring Lake post Sandy.
“People did see the destruction in Seaside, in Point Pleasant, in Spring Lake and if they’re not really following it, they’re figuring it’s shot,” Mikolajczyk said.
But restaurants right across from the beach aren’t the only businesses in town that depend on a strong summer tourism season. A few blocks from the water is Spring Lake’s business district. Retailers say the boardwalk is fundamental to the local economy and they too are fighting misconceptions about the Jersey Shore.
“I get phone calls, ‘Hey I heard your beach is gone.’ No, the beach is still there, there’s just a little less sand and the ocean is still there too,” said Third Avenue Chocolate Shoppe owner Matthew Magyar.
Mayor Naughton hopes tourists hear the message loud and clear.
“It isn’t just Spring Lake that’s made a remarkable recovery. It’s my neighboring towns as well so in the spirit of solidarity we would invite you back,” Naughton said.
As for the Armitages, they’re finally back to their routine. Local officials hope tourists will follow suit.