A bloody footprint and the path to a promenade along the Delaware Bay front

    “You better be careful, that lady cut her foot!”

    An older Asian man, carrying a bucket, pointed down at the flat jetty rock as he walked passed me. A crimson blot of blood, heel-shaped. Dozens of them, in a path leading back toward Douglass Park from the broad rockpile that sticks out into the Delaware Bay from the Cape May Canal and the Cape May-Lewes Ferry terminal. 

    I followed the footprints out along the jetty, past fishermen looking for a late-afternoon catch. (Alas, “Nothing but a load and a tan” was to be had that day, one guy told me.) It wasn’t clear whether the Bloody Foot Woman had stepped on something or tripped and shredded her foot on a sharp stone edge, but it must have been an unpleasant trip back to the car. 

    It was Labor Day, and I’d stopped to take a last stroll and snap a few pictures for a post I was planning on Lower Township Mayor Mike Beck’s idea to create a concrete “Sunset Promenade” over the World War II-era rockpile. The township is seeking grant money to pay for the estimated $1.1 million cost of the promenade, and the county’s Open Space Review Board has the project under consideration.

    In a recent phone conversation, Beck said a 15-foot wide, 800-foot concrete promenade would make the jetty more accessible and safer for seniors, children, the people who come to fish and those who come to watch the sunset. Each year, the township’s Fourth of July celebrations along the bay get bigger, and a promenade could make it easier for people to gather there to watch. 

    As children, my brother and I would race each other to the end of the jetty, bare feet jumping among flat and sloping and sandy rocks. We poked at crabs that washed into the crevices, and held our ears on foggy days when the horn beckoned to boats we couldn’t see.

    I set out on my Labor Day visit wondering whether a promenade might not ruin that wild charm.

    The small park at the foot of the jetty is popular with senior citizens, and there’s a path to the beach below. But it’s tricky to negotiate the rocks, and impossible with a wheelchair or scooter, so they tend to stick to the small covered picnic benches and don’t venture out too far. Others, like my Dad, usually just sit in the car and take in what view they can.

    Making the jetty and park area more of an official destination, and tying it in with new shops and dining at the nearby ferry terminal could be part of larger future development plans in that area. It became an issue in the most recent local election, though Beck and running mates who favor the promenade won against rivals who called it wasteful.

    Beck said he has had good feedback from the Delaware River and Bay Authority, which operates both the ferry terminal and the Cape May County Airport, which also sits in Lower Township and has seen more retail development in recent years.

    A promenade would at the very least be accessible to people in wheelchairs and parents with strollers, and likely safer for pedestrians like Bloody Foot Woman.  If the township can secure grant money to pay for its construction and upkeep, it seems like a plan with a smooth path ahead.

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