There was salted caramel pretzel ice cream to be had Sunday across from the newly reopened beach in Cape May. Dom and Gina DiGiacomo of Gloucester Township (and Sea Isle) weren’t complaining.
There was an uncrowded beach where John and Jennifer Tomac of Cherry Hill put down chairs and ate sandwiches from a cooler, felt the breeze and sun, and felt better for having done so.
“It’s amazing,” said Kristy Pellicano, of Hudson County, as she walked the water’s edge. “I didn’t realize how much I missed it until I was able to get back out here.”
But day two of dipping New Jersey’s toes into the waters of a few tentative beach and state parks reopenings began with a reproach.
Corson’s Inlet, a state beach at the southern end of Ocean City, would no longer allow beachgoers, only boat-launchers, the parks department announced. A state parks employee guarded the entrance, trying to keep the gnats out of her mask.
Too many people crowded into the parking lot on Saturday, including reports of some who sneaked back over the border into adjacent Ocean City, where beaches are still closed. In fact, several state parks were declared “overrun” on Saturday, leading to warnings and parking lot shutdowns.
Over at Malibu Beach, a dog beach at the base of the Ocean City-Longport Bridge, enforcement was swift on Sunday. The area is a wildlife management area, not a state park, and is still closed, despite the fact that a dozen people and their dogs were happily playing Sunday morning.
It fell to New Jersey Conservation Police Officer Daniel Faith to deliver the bad news to Murphy, the yellow lab puppy, Jesse, the chocolate lab, and all the other dogs and their owners. Faith also had to replace the “Closed” sign, which he said had been ripped down. Bad dog owners!
Faith led a sad band of owners and dogs off the beach, then sat in his truck, flashing lights on, blocking the parking lot. Most people were OK with it, though disappointed. Nobody wanted to fail the “knucklehead” test, Gov. Phil Murphy’s name for anyone messing up a chance at a slight easing of restrictions.
It was fun while it lasted, though.
“It’s fantastic,” said Chris Shannon, of Gloucester Township, minutes before being told to leave by Officer Faith. It was his yellow lab puppy Murphy’s first time on the beach, he said. As for masks, “We have them if we need them,” Shannon said. “Seeing as it’s not that crowded, with social distancing, we figured we wouldn’t need it.”
In Cape May, where beaches were newly opened for walking and running, but not for sitting, an afternoon sun broke through a drizzly morning and brought out bike riders, dog walkers, bench chatterers, motorcycle riders, masked strollers sipping Starbucks on the promenade, and even a few ocean swimmers.
Some had masks on, some didn’t. Others interviewed said they had masks with them if they thought they needed them.
On the beach, there was plenty of room to spread out. The city had announced that beaches were opening for walking and jogging only, no sitting. (The Tomacs of Cherry Hill said they were unaware of that restriction when they plopped their chairs down.)
Things were tighter in places where people parked bicycles and cars and entered and exited the beach. On Saturday, some beaches in Atlantic City and Island Beach State Park saw modest crowds, some groups of young people congregating, but mostly compliance with distancing.
On Long Beach Island, where beaches are open but only for walking and running, two teenage girls lying on the beach were struck by a Ship Bottom Beach Patrol truck Saturday afternoon. The driver, John Purdon, of Barnegat, was charged with reckless driving, according to a post from Ship Bottom police. The girls, from Berks County, Pa., were treated at Jersey Shore Medical Center and released.
Even as they played at some tentative beach rituals, it was hard for many people to totally imagine what a true summer day might look like under a continued, or modified, coronavirus shutdown. Most people interviewed said they would attempt social distancing on the beach, and hoped others would comply.
“I’m nervous about it," said Pellicano, who had a mask with her ready to put on if anyone came near her family as they walked near the ocean’s edge. “We’ve been really careful about the social distancing. It’s a little weird to be back out. I’m a little nervous we won’t be able to do this on a weekend. I don’t know what that will look like.”
Allison Morgan, an interior designer from West Cape May, was out in a wet suit to do some ocean swimming in Cape May. But she urged continued restrictions as the true summer season approaches.
“If the weather is good, and you just open the beaches, it’s going to be a floodgate,” she said. “I come early in the morning, so I’m usually out of here by the time people come.”
Perhaps summing up the oddness of Jersey’s slight attempt at normalcy, she said her ocean swim was “going to feel numb, but it’s going to feel good.”
Out on Beach Avenue, with her ice cream cone, meanwhile, Gina DiGiacomo said that because they had a house in Sea Isle, they wouldn’t have to worry about renting or otherwise figuring out how to enjoy the summer. They could just come to their house.
“Whether we leave that house is another story,” said Dom.
At the Cove in Cape May as the weather brightened, people parked bicycles and took their kids to (finally) play on the beach, or sat on benches to chat and wave to a few lifeguards leaving the beach in a truck.
Bob Schultz and Laura Bell sat on a prime bench at the tip of Cape May, talking to people on another bench, arguably six feet away, give or take. Schultz had left his mask on his bike, but had a towel to use as a face covering. He said he’s been diligent. Still, on Sunday, he became inadvertently in the middle of a lot of people going by him.
“As long as they pull together and do social distancing,” he said, considering the scene around him. “That’s what concerns me, if they kind of give up on that. Where else is a better place to get fresh air than a beach? But we’re all in it together.”