It may have been a late and slow start to the swimming season at The Cove beach on Lake Lenape, but those who waded in on the first day of the season Friday said it was worth the wait.

Those who came out were greeted with temperatures in the upper 70s to low 80s, blue skies and glittering water with few waves.

Rachel Peterson, of Mays Landing, spent a few hours at the beach with her husband, Bob, and their 2-year-old son, Bobby, because of the beautiful day.

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"We were really excited" about the first day, she said. "It's beautiful and a lot more convenient than taking (Bobby) to the beach and having to lug all his equipment."

Last year, Hamilton Township did not allow simming at the beach because of budget cuts. A plan to operate the beach on a reduced schedule and increase use fees in 2009 failed because not enough people applied to work there.

In May, the Township Committee voted to allow swimming this summer under a reduced schedule and increased beach tag fees. The goal, officials said, was that no tax dollars be used to pay the $32,000 needed for lifeguards, badge checkers and maintenance.

Many residents who used the beach were upset there was no swimming beach on Lake Lenape at all. The county-run Lake Lenape Park does not allow swimming.

Rachel Peterson, who grew up in Mays Landing and said she took swimming lessons as a child at The Cove, said she did not remember a summer when the Cove was closed. In 2008, she was at the beach every few days. She said she expects to visit frequently this summer.

Manager Amy Bowen said 13 badges had been sold by 1:30 p.m. Friday.

"It's a slow start, but we're getting there," she said. Badges have been on sale since late May at two Mays Landing businesses, and several residents also sold them for the township.

Many staff members this year have worked at The Cove in previous years, and Bowen said last year she had to keep a job she planned to quit because she could not work at the Cove for the summer.

Randi Meekins said she had worked at The Cove for several years as a lifeguard but did not have her certification up to date in time to apply for a job this year. So she settled for work as a badge checker with an hourly wage of $1.75 less. "I'm just happy to be here," she said.

More than a dozen people were at the beach just after noon Friday, with a handful in the water. Kathy Fetterolf, of Egg Harbor City, said the shallow water close to shore was warm, but as she and her three grandchildren waded further out, the water got chillier.

"Whether you have kids or not, it is a great place to come," she said. "We missed it last year."

Fetterolf said she decided to take her grandchildren to The Cove on the first day it was open because she expected fewer people.

"I expect the weekend to be packed," she said.

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