New Yorker Calls for Retreat From the Jersey Shore Barrier Islands. Easy for the New Yorker to say.

“I’d Chain Myself to a Dune Fence”: A post-Sandy postcard from Seaside.

On Monday, I drove to Seaside Park to visit a friend who’s staying there this summer. For the last six years, I’ve spent a lot of time writing about the Southern Jersey Shore, which I consider Atlantic City to Cape May. This was my first time seeing this part of our coast not via pictures of post-Sandy damage.

Seaside isn’t one town. It’s a cluster of towns that share part of the same name, just like we have Wildwood, North Wildwood and Wildwood Crest instead of one Wildwood at the South Jersey Shore.

Seaside Heights holds the main chunk of the boardwalk here. It’s a lot like Wildwood’s boardwalk except with more visible bars and less creative T-shirts. I did a lot of touristy things on my boardwalk stroll: took a picture of the closed FunTown Pier and saw what was left of the Casino Pier that had just re-opened on Friday, even though the back chunk of it still looks much like it did in November (one amusement booth beyond the heavy fencing still had T-shirts hanging on the wall, though the Jet Star — the roller coaster that fell into the ocean — has since been demolished). I had a slice of pizza from Maruca’s, which makes the same Trenton-style pizza I love from Manco & Manco’s, though they don’t do birch beer up here. If you could look past the springy new boardwalk boards and the destruction that hung off the amusement piers, it seemed very Jersey Shore normal.

Casino Pier in Seaside Heights where Jet Str used to be

The casino pier in Seaside Heights, former home of the Jet Star. | Photos by Jen A. Miller

Of all the Seasides, Seaside Heights was most damaged by Sandy. There wasn’t anything to stop the water rushing through the boardwalk and into town, which is why the Jet Star fell into the ocean. They didn’t have the dunes that the more residential Seaside Park and South Seaside Park have. Those dunes are still, even post-Sandy, as high as 25 feet.

Seaside Park

Fun Town pier in Seaside Park.

The difference is striking. Where shore life continues at a leisurely, late-summer pace, some homes in Seaside Park are still boarded up or empty. Just north is Ortley Beach where there are parking lots of sand where homes used to be. They just weren’t worth saving, or floated away.

Ortley Beach

The former site of homes in Ortley Beach.

But even in the rest of the Seasides, the storm him differently block by block. Midway Beach, a beach-front community of one-story homes within South Seaside Park, only had one home with any water damage. Across the street, in another small community, homes are empty because of mold.

Yet life here goes on. The boardwalk music plays. Kids in bathing suits ride bikes while holding surfboards, and the nine-to-fivers come onto the beach after work to surf the evening waves, or just sit with their feet in the sand on a nice summer day.

A recent New Yorker article called for retreat from the Jersey Shore barrier islands. That’s an easy thing for the New Yorker to say after dropping into a town to report a story. When you aren’t from here, nor have generations of history in one place stacked behind you, sure, it’s a snap to point at a bunch of people who you don’t know, tell them their deep roots in a place are non-factors, and tell them they must go. Climate change is a very real and scary thing, but for every town of flattened homes and roller coasters in the ocean, there’s a South Seaside Park that saw only a skim of damage because of the dune system that held strong against 90 mile per hour ocean winds slamming into it during a hurricane.

Despite the scar that this region will carry for a lifetime (in every conversation I had with people about Sandy, the Storm of ’62 came up as well; those wounds run deep), there won’t be a blanket retreat. There were far too many people on that boardwalk and those beaches on a mild Monday afternoon to make a valid case for that. “I’ll chain myself to a dune fence,” a friend said if he was told to leave.

I’d join him.

 

Be respectful of our online community and contribute to an engaging conversation. We reserve the right to ban impersonators and remove comments that contain personal attacks, threats, or profanity, or are flat-out offensive. By posting here, you are permitting Philadelphia magazine and Metro Corp. to edit and republish your comment in all media.

  • Richard Rys

    Nicely written piece. Just two contrary points. Seaside as I know it
    from countless trips there is just two boroughs: the Park and the
    Heights. Also think your interpretation of the New Yorker story is a bit
    oversimplified. My takeway was that it didn’t say “get out.” It looked at the costs of
    living there–for both residents and taxpayers across the nation–and
    the very real, very scary vision of a future where superstorms happen
    every decade, not every century. I grew up with the shore, central and
    south, and love it. But Mother Nature and our weakened economy may force
    us to approach life there differently.

    • John Anderson

      The third “Seaside” Jen is discussing is that of South Seaside Park which
      is a section of mainland Berkeley Township. It runs from south of 14th
      ave to Island Beach State Park.

      Midway Beach is located in
      South Seaside Park.

      • Richard Rys

        Thanks for the clarification. Learn something new every day.

  • Donna DiFalco

    Very well written article about my beloved Seaside <3 Those who don't have precious memories there just don't understand that it's the "whatever it takes" attitude of the people who have lived there for generation that makes the shore Jersey Strong. Not only will they rebuild but they will RESTORE OUR BEAUTIFUL SHORE.

  • Dan Eisner

    The story was not calling for a retreat from the Barrier Islands. It discussed the challenges of having so much development on land that is meant to provide protection. Those are important things to consider, just as it’s important to consider the ramifications of building in the desert (e.g., Las Vegas) or below sea level (e.g., New Orleans).

    The writer of the piece, John Seabrook, *is* from New Jersey. His family has a long history in Jersey. In fact, my grandmother worked for his grandfather, at Seabrook Farms in Cumberland County.

  • Serafina

    Only sand dunes can make the barrier islands of safe from future storm surges. This means Seaside Heights must have the US Army Corps of Engineers build dunes, as soon as possible.