On Tuesday, I drove to Monmouth County to check out the revised course of the New Jersey Marathon, which will run from Oceanport to Ocean Grove and back to Long Branch, N.J. on May 5. I haven’t been north of Atlantic City since December, and was curious to see how far this area has progressed so far post-Sandy.
The results are mixed. Long Branch’s giant trash pile that included everything from toilets to mattresses to boardwalk debris was gone, and the Asbury Park boardwalk repairs should be done next month. But at the same time, many Monmouth Beach homes are still empty except for dumpsters parked in the driveways, or they’re on jacks and being raised on pilings to meet new FEMA elevation requirements.
The next day, the New York Times ran a piece about where vacationers will go this summer. It’s a hard article to write, and one I admit that I’ve been avoiding, for two very big reasons.
1. It’s a touchy subject. I don’t like the idea of anyone licking their chops at getting ahold of displaced tourists. A Baltimore paper ran a story late last year about how Ocean City, Maryland was going to try to attract Jersey Shore visitors down this summer, and it blew up in their faces. Southern Jersey Shore tourism officials have talked to me off record about their plans to keep visitors in New Jersey. They didn’t want to go on record because they didn’t want to offend towns to the north because they know, if the situation was reversed, they wouldn’t want it happening to them.
2. It’s a big topic to write about in 800 words (give or take). The Jersey Shore is over 140 miles of coast, each pocket of it unique. Look at our southern half. You have the wealth of Stone Harbor next to the wild and crazy boardwalk of Wildwood next to Victorian draped Cape May. These towns do not act as one, and they’re within 45 minutes of each other. It’s nearly impossible to break down how visitors to place like Seaside Heights, South Seaside Heights, Ortley Beach, Belmar, Avon will act. In some towns, the damage is different from block to block. For example: The Asbury Park boardwalk is nearly repaired, and some boardwalk front stores are open. But right at the border between Asbury Park and Loch Haven, a house sits facing the ocean, its walls ripped off and a car still blocked into the driveway.
There’s also survivor’s guilt at play here. On Sunday, I ran the Ocean Drive 10. That race is part of the Ocean Drive Marathon that goes from Cape May to Sea Isle. The only course issue was the bridge between Avalon and Stone Harbor, which is still closed to traffic but was open to runners. That’s not the case for the New Jersey Marathon, who has had to re-work parts of its course off of boardwalks that were destroyed. This trip was a vivid reminder of how bad it still is in parts of the state – and what a big question mark this summer will be, not just for tourists, but homeowners who still aren’t sure what they’re going to do with their damaged homes.
Jen A. Miller writes the Down the Shore with Jen blog for NewsWorks.org. Jen is author of The Jersey Shore: Atlantic City to Cape May, which is now in its second edition.