[UPDATE BELOW] Hurricane Sandy hammered the Rockaway Peninsula with a breathtaking vengeance, but the city Parks Department has promised that the popular beaches out there will open in time for Memorial Day. However, in February the National Park Service, which manages Jacob Riis Park and Fort Tilden—both part of the Gateway National Recreation Area—announced that popular hipster destination Fort Tilden would not reopen this summer. And if you were hoping you could just flout the rules and use the beach anyway, photographer Tod Seelie learned this weekend that the authorities are monitoring the beach very closely.
Seelie trekked out to Fort Tilden on Saturday to survey the damage, and within twenty minutes a cop on an ATV arrived and ordered him to leave. "The dunes are gone, completely gone," says Seelie. "A row of old wooden posts and occasional connecting beams has been revealed where the dunes once stood. There is a lot of debris in the sand, from protruding metal and chunks of concrete to just general trash. The concrete road that used to run behind the dunes has been broken up into chunks toward the west end. The dunes are gone, completely gone."
Because the dunes are leveled, there is "no buffer against the strong winds from the sea, the trees and bushes are being bent in toward land from the wind," Seelie tells us, adding that the sand deposits in the abandoned houses are "significant." He also says that while there is no physical barrier preventing access to the beach, there are frequent helicopter patrols.
After getting kicked out of Fort Tilden, Seelie headed over to the adjacent Jacob Riis to see how that area was looking with beach season seven weeks away. Like the Fort Tilden beach, the concrete paths are broken up into pieces, but the beach has very little debris compared to Fort Tilden. There are also heavy sand deposits covering some stairs, but it seems plausible that the beach will be ready to go in time for summer, as promised.
If you head out there before Memorial Day, steer clear of the parking lot at Jacob Riis; it's being used as a staging area for construction equipment and rock material. Seelie says that soon after his arrival a construction worker "roared over in a large front loader to tell me I would be arrested if I didn't leave immediately."
The National Park Service has not said whether Fort Tilden's beach will reopen for summer 2014. Spokespersons for the National Park Service, Councilmember Eric Ulrich and Assemblyman Phillip Goldfeder
did not respond to requests for comment... see below:
Update April 9th: Councilman Ulrich declined to comment, but National Park Service spokesperson Daphne Yun got back to us today to say, "We will work on getting [Fort Tilden] open in 2014." (She also added that "there won't be ferry service at Riis Landing until we are able to repair the pier... it actually floated across the bay and landed on Plumb Beach.")
We also spoke to Assemblyman Phillip Goldfeder, who had this to say: "We've all been devastated by the storm and there are lot of things that need to be fixed and put back together to get our lives back. But we have to prioritize. For example, Rockaway residents want to see the full boardwalk back this summer, but it's just not possible. I'm glad to see progress, and it does bother me to see this destruction, but we can only do so much at once. The hardest part of any recovery is you have to internalize the fact that it's going to take time to get back to normal."