SANDY HOOK, N.J. (AP) — One of the state's most popular swimming and fishing areas is back in business little more than six months after sustaining serious damage from Superstorm Sandy.
The Gateway National Recreation Area at Sandy Hook opened Wednesday morning to accommodate anglers. Sandy Hook is a prime spot for bluefish and striped bass in the spring, and fishermen landed several large bass on Wednesday.
Students from Lacey Township were in the first group to see the park after it reopened. Rob Eckstein, a field instructor with one of many environmental groups based at Sandy Hook, led the students on a tour.
"During the storm, there was a tidal surge 15 feet high," he told them on a grassy field outside the former military buildings that now house various organizations at the former Army encampment at the hook's northern tip. "It splashed up against the buildings, knocked the door down and flooded our basement. There was a wave measured by a buoy 32 feet high. We're hoping Mother Nature gives us another 100 years" before unleashing a similar storm, he said.
Sandy Hook reopened after a massive cleanup effort that still is not quite finished. The park's main road remains pitted and cratered from the waves that pounded it during the storm; sand was 6 feet deep on the roadway in some places. Many of the buildings were damaged as well.
But many walking and jogging trails are open. The park's nude beach, as well as two other beaches, will be open by Memorial Day. Parking will be limited while lots are repaired.
The reopening let students see the power of nature, as well as its capacity to regenerate itself, said Diana Burch, a program coordinator with New Jersey Sea Grant based at the park.
"It's important to know how storms affect the coast, but we want the children to see how resilient the coast is, and this is a good way to do that," she said.
Liz Hutler, a teacher in Lacey Township, said the kids were excited to see the park functioning again.
"A lot of the children experienced storm damage because they live right on Barnegat Bay," she said. "We did a field trip here in the fall shortly before the storm. You can see that there's still damage, but we're excited to be here. This is one of our favorite trips that we do."
The park is free until Memorial Day weekend, when a daily $15 fee kicks in. A seasonal parking pass is $75.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC