At a mile and a quarter long, the Boro of Belmar, NJ’s beach offers recreational and special events opportunities galore for the 60,000 daily visitors it welcomes each summer weekend.
The sheer size of the beach and the number of folks using it creates a maintenance two-step that has everyone stepping and fetching.
Well, not actually everyone. In fact, according to Andy Meuerle, Superintendent of Public Works for the Boro of Belmar, his regular work crew is able to open and winterize the beach each season and the daily summer maintenance is handled by just 12 seasonal staff members working under the direction of one full time manager.
Of course, the one person Meuerle wishes he could have on staff (or at least as a paid consultant) is Mother Nature.
“We have a window before and after the summer season,” says Meuerle, “and that window is not on a calendar. If we try to prepare too early or winterize too early it’s wasted effort.”
Effort seems to be the right word. In a typical season, Meuerle’s team spends four to six weeks (beginning sometime in March)digging out the four-foot high snow fence they installed at the end of the previous season and re-leveling the beach.
How much sand are we talking about? A lot. Over the course of a typical winter, the four-foot snow fence which runs the entire length of the beach will hold back three feet of drifting blowing sand. According to Meuerle, the only way to move it is to rent a bulldozer and literally dig it out. Not an easy job. But the work is just beginning.
With the beach leveled and the weather reports indicating summer is about to arrive, Meuerle’s crew rolls the beach showers, restrooms, beach lockers, signage and lifeguard stands – all of which are mobile – out of storage and into their places on the beach.
Because, as Meuerle says, “we don’t try to fight Mother Nature, so we retreat for the winter.”
With the beach open, the maintenance chores switch from Meuerle’s full time crew to his seasonal staff.
Through trial and error, Meuerle has learned two important in-season maintenance lessons:
1. Divide the beach into sections and work on each section at least one day per week
2. Empty the 300 plus trash cans as they fill up instead of once a day
“We divide the beach into 5 to 7 areas and hit each area with an automated beach rake at least once a week,” says Meuerle “and we police each area by hand daily.”
The beach is so large that it takes the better part of one work day just to rake one section and the daily hand policing ensures common maintenance tasks such as, painting, repairs, and quick clean up of any vandalism are not forgotten.
Meuerle’s a strong believer that people act or respond to their environment. When it comes to vandalism, occasionally Belmar will have some occurrence, but not often.
“If you clean up something that happens real quick,” says Meuerle, “there are no copy cats.”
This belief is one of the big reasons he bought two John Deere Gators and assigned two seasonal staff to simply drive from trash can to trashcan bagging and removing the garbage.
As Meuerle says, “we used to just empty the trash early in the morning, which left our Mayor and a lot of residents very unhappy because at the end of the beach day and overnight, the trash cans would be overflowing. The birds would get into the garbage and it left the beach a mess.”
It also highlighted just how many visitors and residents use the boardwalk that runs the length of the beach in the early morning, late afternoon and evening.
“We have hundreds and hundreds of people using the boardwalk – walkers, joggers, customers to the shops,” says Meuerle, “we need to keep the beach clean.”
End of the Season
When it’s time to close the beach, Meuerle and his staff keep a close eye on the weather always wary of approaching storms and hurricanes.
In phases, they gradually remove all the mobile beach equipment and work to re-install the snow fence.
“We have to really pay attention,” says Meuerle, “if we’re caught off guard and a hurricane or other storm hits us before we’re winterized it causes a lot of work because everything gets buried in sand.”
Belmar Beach Facts:
Season: Memorial Day to Labor Day
Beach Length: 1 and ¼ miles
Daily Weekend Visitors: 60,000
Special Events: Lifeguard Tournaments, 20th Annual NJ Seafood Festival, Sand Castle Contest, The Belmar Five Johnny Cobb Memorial Run
Daily Beach Pass Cost: $7
Seasonal Beach Pass Cost: $50
Seasonal Storage Locker Rental: $175