Maintenance Can Be A Beach

By Randy Gaddo

When you mention beaches to most people, they’ll likely conjure images of sun, surf, sand, swim suits, and fun; however, if you mention beaches to a parks and rec professional tasked with maintaining said beaches, their first thoughts may not involve the fun part.

The fact is, maintaining beaches for public recreation is a lot of work and not the kind many parks and rec staff members are accustomed to handling. However, there are more beaches in the parks and rec realm than first meets the eye. Some are “inland,” on the Great Lakes, but most of them are, of course, on the east and west coasts.

Miles Of Maintenance
For example, the Long Beach, Calif., parks and rec department has about six miles of beach under its watch. There are four miles of white, sandy beaches with a couple more miles along the inner bay, all open to the public. Factor in the nine miles or so of jetties and breakwater areas, and they add up to a challenging maintenance task for Donald Easterby and his staff. As superintendent of beach maintenance with the Long Beach Parks and Rec Department for the past 24 years, Easterby has seen the full gamut of maintenance issues.

Beach erosion is one of the constants, and a system is in place to ensure there is sand on the beach for the tourism season. “We call it buck passing,” quips Easterby, summarizing a laborious task of constantly hauling sand back onto the beach—a task made more intense after a large storm. “We average hauling about 230 tons of sand back onto the beach after each storm,” he says.

The city budgets for equipment, fuel, and maintenance to support this important ongoing operation. “We both buy and lease equipment,” says Easterby. “We have bulldozers and front-end wheel loaders and a fleet of trucks and equipment, but we also rent two 34-ton articulated dump trucks by the month.”

The department rents these behemoths because they haul three times more sand per trip than the fleet trucks. “It saves time and we don’t have the burden of maintaining them,” Easterby notes.             

Another important, ongoing chore is keeping the iconic beaches free of trash and debris, not only that left by people but also tons of it left by the rise and fall of tides. Trash collects in the jetties and breakwater areas as the tide comes in, and during high tide it can find its way to the beaches, which, in a way, is good because at least it isn’t going out to sea, Easterby suggests.

The beaches are cleared of this debris by using a vehicle that separates trash from sand. “We drag it and it rakes the sand, like running a comb through it,” Easterby explains, calling the device a sanitizer. One limiting factor is that the sanitizer cannot be dragged through the surf line if grunion are there.

Grunion are small, 5- to 7-inch fish that spawn annually between March and August along the beaches of southern California. Spawning is done on the beach, with the fish remaining out of the water in the surf line for a half a day or more. Strict rules and seasons control harvesting of the small fish, but locals and tourists often go there just for that reason. So, cleaning the surf line is a bit trickier during that time.

Over the years, Easterby has been involved in developing specialized storm-debris “curtains,” floating devices that help protect marinas and beaches from the onslaught of trash floating down from the Los Angeles River. He engineered the 300-foot-long curtains, which are still in use.

The devices consist of floating dredge pipe that extends about 8 inches above the water, to which a netting material is attached that hangs about 2 feet below the surface along the length of the system. The curtains feature a mechanized wheelhouse acting as a gate that floats open to allow boat traffic in but closes so that trash is collected.

“My staff is primarily responsible for opening and closing the gate, as well as collecting the trash that accumulates, but the beach lifeguards do assist with that sometimes,” says Easterby, adding that lifeguards fall under the Fire and Marine Safety Department.

Blowing sand is another constant maintenance issue, ”[e]specially along the existing bike paths and the new public walking path,” says Easterby. “These are used by local residents constantly and are very popular with tourists, so keeping them clear of sand is one of our priorities.”

The maintenance work Easterby and his staff does is also important to the local economy, which is highly dependent on having clean beaches and associated public areas.

A New Partnership
The impact of beaches on the local, state, and national economy is one of several priorities that consume the workday of Derek Brockbank, Executive Director of the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association (ASBPA).

The association has existed since 1926 to preserve, protect, and enhance U.S. coasts by merging science and public policy for healthy, sustainable, and resilient coastal systems. Until this year, the association has functioned largely in a federal advocacy mode, serving as the voice in Washington, D.C., for beach communities and beach restoration.  It plans to expand its reach in 2017 into the parks and recreation world.

“We want to ensure that there is federal funding and support at the regulatory level for beach maintenance and restoration,” says Brockbank. “We take material from research universities around the country and from the Corps of Engineers and other sources and try to translate that to people who are responsible for actually maintaining our beaches.”

As an example, he notes, if scientific research is being done on how hurricanes impact erosion on beaches with grunion, the association wants to ensure that the research is not just letters, numbers, and equations. “We want to make sure that the research is being used by beach managers to implement actions that will assure them that they’ll have a beach next summer,” he says.

Starting this year, though, parks and recreation departments responsible for maintaining beaches will be able to start tapping more directly into the expertise offered by ASBPA.

Brockbank says the volunteer-driven organization that represents beach communities nationally has begun to realize that many of the beach managers it is targeting work under, or alongside, parks departments. In fact, many of its board members are with parks and rec agencies.

“For example, one of our board members is the director of Los Angeles beaches and harbors, so he and his team are responsible for maintaining everything from harbors and navigation depths where movie stars park their yachts to making sure there is sand on the beach and no litter,” he explains. 

This year, for the first time, the ASBPA will be expanding its annual conference from purely scientific and technical topics to include specific topics that impact beach maintenance and operations. “This will include items such as how to keep sand on beaches, environmental issues, how to handle litter or over-proliferation of seaweed, how to handle concessionaires, and more,” he says, adding that this year’s annual conference will be in Fort Lauderdale from Oct. 24-27.  

“It is great that the ASBPA wants to open up to include parks and rec beach maintenance professionals,” says Easterby, who is familiar with the organization and what it has to offer. He notes that if the association begins to translate the technical information into formats that are useful to beach managers and operators, it will expand involvement in the programs and readership of its publications.

At press time the ASBPA conference organizers were beginning to form conference sessions and had just begun a solicitation for session presenters. By publication time, there should be more information on the website, www.asbpa.org.

“Science ties in with maintenance because it impacts how beaches are cared for,” Brockbank says, adding that it’s one thing to manage an isolated beach or dune system, but quite another to manage, operate, and maintain public-access shoreline, beach, and harbor systems.

For example, Brockbank cites iconic beaches of the Texas coastline that are deluged with almost a foot of seaweed every couple of years around spring break time. “Nobody wants to sit on a beach like that, and if it’s left there, the smell can be awful,” he says. “So they have tractors and rakes and bulldozers, and they either haul it off or dig holes, bury it under the sand and let it naturally decompose. Beaches across the country deal with this issue, so how they handle it in Texas may be of some help to somebody else.”

Dead sea life that washes ashore is another issue for beach-maintenance managers. Brockbank cites an example in which a dead whale washed ashore on July 1, so the staff worked through the night so July Fourth beach-goers didn’t have to deal with the smell.

Public Awareness Goes A Long Way
Protecting dunes presents an important aesthetic, ecological, and environmental task that often falls to beach managers.

“Beaches with dunes generally have signs posted that say ‘stay off dunes,’ but sometimes you need more than just signs; you need to communicate with the public to explain why it is important,” he explains. “If you have maintenance people planting dune grass and then people walking on it, it is wasted effort.”

It is important that the knowledge and experience of beach-maintenance professionals is also passed on to the academic and research world. “This communication is an area in which we are recognizing that we need to improve. We would like to create a community of practice between those responsible for maintaining beaches, shorelines, dunes, harbors, and related areas, and those in the academic and research areas who are trying to figure out best practices to physically maintain those areas.”

One place where Brockbank says this type of communication has led to positive results is in the Orange Beach and Gulf Shores area in coastal Alabama. These coastal communities have teamed up to create a “Leave Only Footprints” campaign.

Historically, people who came for a week or more on vacation would leave their beach chairs, tents, coolers, and other things out overnight on the beach so they could go back to the same spot the next day. The trouble was that this was interfering with nesting sea turtles, which would turn back when they encountered all of the obstructions.

“Nesting sea turtles is another common issue in the southeast,” says Brockbank. “How do you maintain the beach as a habitat and also keep its appeal for tourism, to ensure both turtles and people can share the beach?”

“I recently had the opportunity to talk with the city manager of Orange Beach, and he said they have passed legislation to say people can’t leave their stuff on the beach, but that isn’t what they are all about,” says Brockbank.  It has been much more effective to create a cultural norm to keep materials off the beach. There are signs on the beach, and bumper stickers and buttons are distributed to visitors and residents about keeping the beach clear.

Brockback emphasizes that even nonmembers,  who are interested in more information on what the ASBPA offers, can go to its website. Members have access to more detailed information, such as the quarterly peer-review journal called Shore and Beach. This has been in publication since 1933 with informative articles concerning shores and beaches of the nation and the world.

“It’s easy to become a member,” says Brockbank. “There are different levels, but an individual can make a $100 per year donation for a full membership.”

Hopefully, through efforts of groups such as ASBPA, the public will understand and acknowledge the hard work put in by many people, including parks and rec maintenance professionals, to make the beach experience a happy one.

Randy Gaddo served for 15 years as a director in municipal parks and recreation after retiring from 20 years in the U.S. Marine Corps. He earned his master’s degree in Public Administration and is now a full-time photojournalist living in Bay Minette, Ala. Reach him at (678) 350-8642 or cwo4usmc@comcast.net.