Island Beach State Park is reopened after Sandy

Tim Burdon of the N.J. Beach Buggy Association atop frozen rocks at Island Beach State Park. Much of the jetty at the southern end of the park was washed away during Sandy.
Tim Burdon of the N.J. Beach Buggy Association atop frozen rocks at Island Beach State Park. Much of the jetty at the southern end of the park was washed away during Sandy. (THOMAS E. FRANKLIN / Bergen Record)
Posted: January 26, 2013

ISLAND BEACH STATE PARK, N.J. - One of New Jersey's favorite swimming, fishing, and bird-watching spots is back in business.

Island Beach State Park occupies the southernmost end of a barrier island pummeled by Sandy in October.

Like many of the island's communities, including Seaside Heights, Ortley Beach, and Mantoloking, the park sustained major damage from the storm.

But unlike those heavily populated communities, the park remains close to its original wild state, with rolling sand dunes and coastal forests on a half-mile-wide spit of sand between the Atlantic Ocean and Barnegat Bay.

Because there are no homes or businesses and only a handful of park-related structures on the island, much of the damage to sand dunes and the beach itself will be left to nature to repair.

During the Oct. 29 storm, the ocean cut through the island and met the bay in seven places. Those spots will be repaired using dune fencing and discarded Christmas trees that trap sand to naturally regrow dune systems.

But for other damaged areas - like the primary dune system closest to the water that stretches for the length of the 10-mile park - the plan is to let them regenerate though blowing sand and tides, according to Mark Texel, state parks director for the state Department of Environmental Protection.

"It's one of the pristine undeveloped barrier islands in New Jersey, and Island Beach State Park did its job very well in the storm, protecting residents on the other side of the bay," he said.

The park had remained closed until last weekend, when volunteer groups were allowed in to help arrange discarded Christmas trees along the shoreline to trap blowing sand and form new dunes.

The northern half of the park is now open after workers dug five feet of sand off the roadway in the immediate aftermath of the storm.

It could not be reopened until local communities, including Seaside Park and Berkeley Township, relaxed their states of emergency.

About half the 12 buildings in the park sustained some damage, but the bathing pavilions and showers remain intact, as does the roadway running the length of the park. Wooden walkways were smashed and splintered, and lifeguard stands washed away, but officials promise those things will be replaced before Memorial Day.

Sand from the ocean beach washed through the dune breaches, across the road, and into the bay in numerous spots. Many pine trees on the island now bear an orange-ish hue, a sign of stress from the salt water under which they were submerged during and after the storm.

The two houses reserved for use by the governor of New Jersey - one on the ocean side of the island and one on the bay side - sustained little damage, due in large part to the robust dune system protecting them.

The storm brought benefits, too. Due to physical changes wreaked by the storm, the park now boasts new habitat for the endangered piping plover shorebird that didn't exist before, said Ray Bukowski, the park's manager.

And many of the island's famous beach plum bushes survived the storm intact. A beach plum festival, in which patrons pick the small, tart fruit for use in jelly, ice cream, and alcoholic beverages, traditionally ends the summer season at the park each September.

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