NJ beaches reopen under strict social distancing rules

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

Warm weather lured Belmar beachgoers to set up blankets at safe social distances under the watchful eye of police. Officers patrolled the beach on ATVs and strolled the boardwalk ready to break up any crowds.

“Everybody’s far enough apart that I don’t feel it’s that big of an issue. I mean, it’s not too crowded right now, but maybe when it’s more crowded it’ll be hard,” Allentown resident Carleigh Delaney said.

Belmar mayor Mark Walsifer says police will politely request proper distancing — only moving to eject beachgoers who adamantly refuse to comply. And Belmar will cut off beach access when people start invading the required 6 foot space between blankets.

“They’re going to have to cooperate and they’re going to have to social distance because if not the governor is going to say to us that we have to close it down. We don’t want that to happen once we start,” Walsifer said.

“We have different zones on the beach, that if we see one part of the zone starting to get too crowded and we can’t handle social distancing, that one will be closed down. People will be directed to beaches that are less crowded,” he added.

“Like usually, during the actual beach season, everyone’s on top of each other so it makes sense,” Cream Ridge resident Sierra Contrell said.

The boardwalk in Belmar opened last Friday with no benches to keep people moving. Masks are not required, and few people wore them.

“People are just not wearing masks. I think people are making a political statement more that trying to protect everybody,” Lake Como resident Scott Meade said.

The rules still require bars and restaurants to serve only take-out and delivery, but some want to offer alcohol to go, as well. Pizzeria owner Tom Rogers is asking the governor to allow al fresco dining.

“I hope he allows us to do some outside seating at 6 feet apart. We’ve already taken those steps to do that,” Rogers, who owns Mamalukes Pizza, said.

Meanwhile in Point Pleasant Beach, the Maryland Avenue beach opened for a dry run. Dolphins swam just offshore as people hit the sand. New plans permit about 1,000 people on this beach.

“Once we hit that threshold, we’re going to shut everything down for the day and that’s the safest way to do that.” Point Pleasant Beach Mayor Paul Kanitra said. “Over 50% of our population in Point Pleasant Beach are senior citizens, and understandably they’re very concerned about things and want to make sure we do it right.”

“We are going to have police officers on the scene throughout the holiday weekend assisting in keeping people socially distant, not grouping up together,” Point Pleasant Beach Police Chief Joseph Michigan said.

To cut down on crowds, the mayor’s also restricting parking to residents-only near the beach until maybe mid-June. That’s when the boardwalk, featuring the popular Martel’s and Jenkinson’s, are expected to reopen. Residents expect pushback on parking restrictions.

“I know there’s going to be a lot of controversy about parking, again, it’s a public beach, but I think it’s the best thing to do for the town and protecting people,” Point Pleasant Beach resident Dave Damico said.

“I think gradually coming back and seeing how it goes is a really good test,” Point Pleasant Beach resident Laurie Damico said.

During the pre-season social distancing isn’t that hard. But as the Memorial Day weekend draws near, great weather and pent-up demand will certainly draw large crowds to Jersey beaches and test official resolve to keep a safe distance.