High Tide

Monmouth County, N.J., is home to a varied county park system, which includes a number of waterfront areas. And, like the tides that ebb and flow along the county's Seven President's Oceanfront Park, the park system strives for balance.

Waterfront areas in Monmouth County include Seven President's Oceanfront Park, Fisherman's Cove Conservation Area, Shark River Park, Hartshorne Woods Park, Bayshore Waterfront Park, Henry Hudson Trail, Monmouth Cove Marina, Turkey Swamp Park and the Manasquan Reservoir.

Manasquan Reservoir and Seven President's are supervised and programmed, representing the bulk of waterfront resources required to effectively manage these areas.

Both are in the midst of exciting, and at times challenging, development. Recreation use at Manasquan Reservoir is primarily boating and fishing. As a drinking water reservoir, it is off-limits to swimming. It has an environmental center and provides educational programming and various summer camps.

Shoreline to Shoreline

Seven President's Oceanfront Park is a "typical" Memorial Day through Labor Day bathing beach with other incidental use, such as surfing, fishing, personal watercraft and small craft with staff there to supervise the use.

Beachfront programming and education is also a staple at Seven President's, including Marine Scene, Shore Explorers, Nature Crafts by the Sea, and other programs for elementary school age children.

Dave Compton, superintendent of parks for the Monmouth County Park System, says, "We've seen attendance start to increase again, particularly since September 11, because people are staying closer to home and spending more family time together. At the same time we're adding additional facilities to make it more of a day-use park with other amenities available."

Previously, says Compton, attendance had declined, due in large part to the addition of beach areas in beachfront communities between Sandy Hook (part of Gateway National Recreation Area) and Seven President's.

The new facilities and amenities include an in-ground concrete skatepark with an at-grade modular element, an in-line skating rink, a playground, a shelter with restrooms, a paved walking trail, improved parking and other facilities.

"We look for unique areas, like the beach operation, and then on those relatively small pieces of property we're trying to provide day-use facilities that are accessible to people in urban areas," adds Compton.

Compton relates that the new facilities will not come with a significantly larger staff. Instead, the park system will concentrate on maximizing current staff through park-wide rotation.

The park system emphasizes cross training and encourages staff to take advantage of fill-in opportunities throughout the system. This emphasis reaps benefits for the employees through potential overtime, education and training, and benefits the park system by forging a flexible staff.

"If you're here long enough you're definitely going to learn about a lot of different park areas, which makes employees more valuable to the system as a whole. We have a lot of special events in the different areas, which gives them experience in things like cross-country meets, the county fair, and any number of different activities throughout the year," explains Mark Borchert, senior park manager for Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park.

"It's a team approach, and most of the time someone will help you out when you need it. What goes around comes around is the motto. It works out well for everyone in the long run."

Borchert says the park ranger's position at Seven President's is unique -- as it is throughout the system -- as they're responsible for maintenance and law enforcement, and "everything in between."

"It gives you more flexibility. If you see a problem you can act on it right away, rather than reporting it or waiting on someone to act on it," explains Borchert. "It's a time-saver, it's more efficient and works well for us. We're not getting any additional full-time positions, so having a flexible park ranger staff makes it work better."

Seven President's underwent an extensive beach replenishment program in 1997, which enlarged the beach area, but changed the tidal system. Both Compton and Borchert say that the whims of nature rank among the biggest challenges at the waterfront, particularly with the change in sea shelf and a heightened interest in preserving nesting areas for shore birds and other struggling species along the Jersey shore.

"With the beach replenishment, how the beach reacts and how the bottom structure ends up after a storm with heavy winds and high tides, it's not a typical gradual grade. We're getting drop-offs and cuts, and beach scouring. So we have to get out with loaders and equipment to smooth those areas out," says Compton.

"We get a number of rip currents when the water comes in and channels back out and pulls swimmers from the shore. It's always changing. Before the beach replenishment you kind of knew where things were -- the surfers knew the breaks and the guards knew where the rips were."

Despite that, Seven President's has an excellent safety track record, thanks to the combination of vigorous lifeguard training and the aforementioned cross-training. The numbers from last year's beach season tell the tale: With 91 days open for guarded bathing there were 156 rescues, 115 water assists, 150 patron assists (incidents on the beach itself, not the water), and 31 lost-person searches. The searches were usually for small children who wandered away from their parents. All were accounted for.

From a maintenance standpoint, keeping an eye out for nesting shore birds has upped the ante, as any identified nests need to be sealed off from visitors and mechanical beach cleaning.

The state requires the park system to create natural areas between the dune line and the high water mark for the nesting birds and areas for interpretive nature programs.

Because this and the beach replenishment might throw visitors off their normal and quicker path to the beach, Seven President's has purchased portable boardwalks that can be laid out on the sand, which has the double-duty of easier access for those with disabilities.

Borchert says they're moving more toward synthetic materials for signs, furnishings and the boardwalks to ease maintenance in the harsh saltwater environment.

Building Design

At Manasquan Reservoir, the park system dealt with a similar nesting challenge, as bald eagles made a nest near the reservoir's environmental center. Fortunately, the nature center was allowed to continue operation, though it falls just outside the 800-foot buffer the state mandated around the nest.

The nesting has created great public relations, and the park system decided to place a camera inside the environmental center and focus it on the nest, piping images into the center. Compton emphasizes that though something like video images and other points of interest in the nature facility are great to have, the goal is to get everyone outside. So the interesting things inside are used to push them outside and become more active with the environment.

The reservoir features a five-and-a-quarter mile compacted quarry stone trail, boat launch areas, a visitor's center with a bait-and-tackle shop and boat rentals, and day- and week-long camps, among other activities and amenities.

One of the secrets to running an area like this smoothly is design, says Compton. For instance, Manasquan Reservoir utilizes floating docks and a ramp that allows the reservoir to operate, even if the water level drops significantly.

"We tried to make the buildings fit into the environment as best we could while making it as accessible as possible. The other thing we did with these particular buildings, and we're doing it at a number of locations, is designing bathrooms with two accesses, so we can have a restroom open at 6 a.m. for trail users, but the remainder is not open until the park is fully staffed. They have a connecting hallway with an inside access to the restrooms and outside access for users."

And, like at Seven President's Oceanfront Park, safety is a priority. Manasquan Reservoir requires all boaters, regardless, to wear life vests.

"It's a push when it's 98 degrees, people say they're good swimmers and they don't have to do it anywhere else, but it has made a safety impact, and if it saves one life I recommend it," says Compton.