By John Burton
SANDY HOOK – Beach season may seem far away with all the snow and cold weather this winter but Sandy Hook Unit Coordinator Peter McCarthy knows better.
McCarthy, who oversees Gateway National Recreation Area at Sandy Hook for the National Park Service (NPS), and his staff have been working to prepare the approximately 7-mile park for the summer beach season and continue working to repair the damage Super Storm, Sandy caused nearly a year and a half ago. Summer “will be here before you know it,” McCarthy said.
As Memorial Day approaches, McCarthy acknowledged that, while maintenance workers have “been a little occupied” with clearing snow from the park’s roadway and multipurpose path running the length of the park, “things are coming along,” with preparations for the upcoming summer season.
“We’re moving forward,” he said. “Never as fast as anyone would want it, but we’re moving forward.”
Infrastructure work is proceeding and NPS staff are in the process of hiring this summer’s employees, including the needed 75 lifeguards and other personnel, while repairs and the usual maintenance moves forward. “This is the time of year we get ready for that,” he said.
This summer all restrooms will be operational, McCarthy said. “We were limping along,” last summer, as many of the facilities weren’t repaired in time for the summer season, necessitating the use of portable facilities, he said.
For summer 2014, the park will again be using mobile food vendors. The park service is still looking for appropriate vendors and the best location for those trucks to accommodate visitors, he said.
“We’re looking to see where we’ll be in ’15,” in terms of long-term accommodations, he added.
Last year the structures housing the Sea Gulls’ Nest restaurant and bar and other snack bar locations were just too damaged to support the businesses. The NPS canceled its lease with the owners of Sea Gulls Nest, who also handled the other food concessions at the park, and relied on food trucks for visitors.
The sewer and water line work being done in the park is the most extensive and it continues. The reason for the length of time to get that work completed is due to lessons learned from Sandy; repairs are being done to withstand at least a 100-year storm, he said.
“It’s been our No. 1 priority,” moving forward, McCarthy said.
Following Super Storm Sandy, NPS staffers were working at a breakneck pace to ensure that the park, which has about 2 million of its yearly 2.2 million visitors during the summer, would be ready by last Memorial Day. They succeeded in getting it open, being partially operational by early last May.
Some buildings were still in need of repairs while some restroom facilities were just too damaged to be fixed in time, requiring the use of portable facilities for the summer season.
There were hiccups along the way, McCarthy acknowledged. He likened operating last summer to “kind of like flying a plane while you’re building it.”
Even using the food trucks caused some logistical issues. “It got better toward the end of the summer,” as that operation settled into a routine, he said.