After three months of intense Sandy clean up, Island Beach State Park is partially reopen for walking, sport fishing, and four-wheel driving-all without an entrance fee.

Debris at Island Beach State Park (Ilya Hemlin, Townsquare Media NJ)
Debris at Island Beach State Park (Ilya Hemlin, Townsquare Media NJ)

With the reopening of route 35 in Seaside Park, the Christie Administration along with the DEP announced the official reopening of the state park Friday. Ocean Bathing Area 1 will be open for walking and vehicle beach access after crews removed sand as deep as five feet.

“Our first caravan down we were in four wheel drive with air downed tires driving as if we were on the beach but we were actually on the road.” Says Ray Bukowski, Island Beach State Park Manager.

He notes crews used front end loaders to clear the sand throughout the park, which now has two wheel drive access throughout.

Four wheel drive vehicle with park-issued permits may now enter the beach at Ocean Bathing Area 1 near Gillikin’s Road.

Horseback riding is still not permitted at this time.

All of the points south of Ocean Bathing Area 1 – including Ocean Bathing area 2, the Forked River Interpretive Center, the nature center, and access points to Sedge Island- will reopen as cleanup and restoration work progresses.

Island Beach State Park Manager Ray Bukowski says they are making an effort to be open for the peak of summer.

Restrooms remain winterized for the season; however there are portable comfort stations in Ocean Bathing Area 1 and air stations for four wheel drive vehicles are operational throughout the park.

Island Beach State Park took significant damage during Sandy. In addition to losing gas and electricity, dunes were breached in several locations, leaving sand piles up to seven feet high along portions of the Shore Road, the main artery.

Mark Texel, DEP State Director, noted the park’s duty is to act as a barrier between the Atlantic Ocean and the Barnegat Bay, which it did.

“Island Beach State Park did its job very well in the storm, protecting as much as it could the residents on the other side of the Bay.”

Texel says the Marina on the northernmost part of the Island sustained the most damage to its buildings. However both the Governor’s mansions, beach houses, and maintenance facilities survived Sandy with relatively little damage, thanks primarily to the dune systems.

“It’s really the dunes themselves that took the most amount of damage…the primary and secondary dunes in the lower six to sand miles are virtually gone.”

Bukowski says it was only where the dunes were breached was the damage severe.

“There was massive amount of destruction, to the roads, to the infrastructure.”

Fisherman’s Walkway Boardwalk at the A-7 access point was also destroyed, and is now the location of several lines of discarded Christmas trees being used to restore dunes. Part of a project which placed 1,000 trees along strategic weak points on Island Beach State Park’s coast.

Due to the closure of Island Beach State Park, the Division of Parks and Forestry has extended the 2012 Island Beach State Park Mobile Sports Fishing Permits until March 31st, 2013.