By TIM KELLY
If life’s a beach, as the saying goes, it helps to have one.
On Sunday at Park Place beach, folks were soaking up the sun, sand and surf. Especially the sand.
Just last week, what passed for the same beach amounted to a narrow strip of sand ranging between 10 and 50 yards wide.
At high tide, the water’s edge came just feet from the dunes.
That all changed last week when the city’s beach replenishment project pumped in enough sand to increase the width to approximately 150 yards.
Beachgoers were excited and showed up in droves as the dredging project moved past Park Place and headed South.
“It’s amazing when you think about the technology to do something like this,” said Jeff Lowenthal of Havertown, Pa., who began a two-week vacation Saturday. “I’m sorry to say I didn’t know about it. But I was thinking about how something was different.”
The difference was a beach that largely did not exist the last time Lowenthal visited.
“I’ve been sitting here, not knowing this was underwater so recently,” he said, shaking his head.
On Sunday, the project was temporarily suspended in advance of a tropical storm expected to arrive in the Ocean City area on Tuesday.
According to the city’s online update, the sand pumping operation ceased and the dredge “Ohio” was moved to a safe harbor ahead of the storm. The beach entrance at Sixth Street was also closed in anticipation of the storm.
On Sunday, however, hundreds of late afternoon revelers were more interested in squeezing the last few hours of the weekend, and a beach day topping out at 85 degrees and with a light sea breeze and lower humidity than last week.
“Hey, if you’re in a room with four walls, what would you rather look at, the room or this?” asked Wayne Mehrer of suburban Richmond, Va., who swept his arm around the vista that had not existed days before.
Mehrer, who has been a public school teacher for 40 years, was born in Atlantic City and has been coming to Ocean City for years. He was at Park Place with his “significant other,” Ann, also from the Richmond area.
“We were here when the most recent erosion happened,” said Ann, a nurse practitioner, referring to a nor’easter last October that took a huge chunk of the beach and created a five-foot cliff at the beach entrance.
“It took pictures of it at the time and now I have photos of what has been done (as a result of the project). The before and after pictures are pretty dramatic.”
Mehrer said the city’s beach replenishment program is a must in a town with so much riding on the beachgoing experience.
“Generations of families come here and it’s a big tradition they want to keep up and (pass along) to their children,” he said. “So much is dependent on it. The Boardwalk, the businesses and restaurants that make up the tax base rely on what we’re experiencing right here. It’s a good investment and a necessary one.”
The overall project will see the restoration of beaches between Seaview Road and 13th Street.
The work is being performed by Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Company and upon completion will redistribute 1.6 million cubic yards of sand to rebuild 2.1 miles of beach.
Two blocks of beach at a time are closed as the project moves along, according to the city website.
Updates on the project can be found at the city website: http://www.ocnj.us/projectUpdate/
Ocean City Beach Patrol three-year veteran Andrew Middlesworth, of Linwood, was moving some traffic safety cones from water’s edge to a spot near the dunes when he joked about the main impact of the new beach to his job.
“It’s a lot longer walk” (to the guard stand),” he said with a smile, “But it’s really a great thing. This beach is much more accessible now and people are better able to socially distance.”
Middlesworth’s crew included two-year veteran Harrison Stewart, of Egg Harbor Township, and rookie Travis Krause, of Upper Township.
“It’s a big improvement. People are able to spread out and the new sand is softer,” Stewart said. “I think the beach is safer now because the slope of the sand has calmed down the waves on a regular day. The waves have picked up a little bit today, but that’s because the storm is approaching.”
Ann, of Richmond, provided her take on the vital importance of the project.
“This is not only a vacation destination but a bedroom community,” she said. “It would be tragic to lose that when there is the ability to rebuild the foundation of all that.”