Cape May Opens Beach and Promenade

Cape May, NJ -  A yellow front-end loader wheeled storage boxes of lifeguard gear onto the beach Friday morning. The official announcement came later that day. For the first time since the end of March, Cape May’s beach and promenade would reopen Saturday.

This was not business as usual. With new cases of COVID-19 reported every day, there would be no lingering on beach blankets or chairs. No picnicking on the sand. No hanging out with large groups of friends.

Just walking, jogging, fishing or surfing allowed. And don’t forget, the town told beach-goers, maintain a social distance of at least six feet.

Cape May’s beach Saturday morning was blissfully empty. Social distance wasn’t an issue. Perhaps the lack of advance notice about the opening kept the crowds away. The scene looked nothing like the usual summer panorama of crowded beach blankets and umbrellas.

It was a pleasure to walk on the sand once more. But nothing else changed.

The public restrooms still are off limits while the town figures out the best way to keep them sanitized in this age of COVID-19.  Vacation rentals and hotel bookings are on hold for at least three more weeks. The governor’s stay-at – home order keeps non-essential businesses and traditional restaurants closed until further notice. Only take-out and delivery services can operate.

Reopening Complicated

On a radio talk show earlier in the week, Cape May City Manager Jerry Inderwies mulled over the challenge of reopening the beach as the weather warms up.

“More second home owners will be back, that’s a guarantee,” he said. “People will be out and about. They need space.”

But he indicated the reopening will be a gradual process. “We have to do it incrementally and safely. We want to make sure everyone feels safe and is safe.”

Closing the beach was a deterrent, Inderwies admitted, to keep crowds, and coronavirus, out of Cape May. But COVID-19 has not gone away. On March 31, when the beaches closed, there were 185,00 COVID-19 cases across the country. On May 2, the day the beach reopened, the number jumped to 1.1 million cases nationwide.

In this infectious era, Cape May’s proceeding slowly.

New Promenade Rules

On the promenade – that asphalt walkway that runs along the dunes – only walking and jogging are now allowed. That’s as long as the walkers stay six feet from others. No biking or skateboarding or rollerblading. And forget about sitting on benches. Benches are out, because of possible cross-contamination of COVID-19. Masks are definitely in. The town encourages walkers to cover their faces.

Meanwhile, many folks on the promenade Saturday didn’t get the memo about the benches or the bikes or the masks.

Not only did they use the benches, they wore no masks. Hey, it’s Cape May. No rules at the beach, right? Many bicyclists ignored the new ban on biking and rode up and down on the promenade with abandon. 

If closing the beach was meant to send a signal that all is not normal, the opening was telegraphing a new one – all is normal again.

But things are not normal. And won’t be for a while.

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About Jane Kashlak

Jane Kashlak - a journalist, gardener and Cape Island resident - is writing a book.