Almost three months ago, it was a huge story when Hurricane Sandy destroyed the Atlantic City Boardwalk.
That also turned out to be a very wrong story, of course. Reports of the Boardwalk's demise were greatly exaggerated - which didn't stop them from being spread around the world, online, on TV and in print.
Still, there was a nugget of truth that spawned the story, in that there was a piece of Boardwalk that Sandy really did blow away. That was the section that runs more than a half-mile along Absecon Inlet and Maine Avenue, but locals knew it was already pretty much a wreck before the storm, closed to foot traffic because it was in such bad shape it wasn't even safe for walking.
So when the hurricane knocked it down, some people joked in this one case, Sandy actually did the city a favor: It got that beat-up Boardwalk out of the way free, without even a demolition bill.
And that punchline was the end of the story for most of us, except for the people who had to clean up the mess. A lot of the Boardwalk obviously ended up about where you'd expect, on the ground in Atlantic City - as evidenced by two huge piles of decking, timbers and more that sit now by a city playground between Atlantic and Pacific avenues, just a block or so inland from where it used to stand.
But some of the lumber made a much longer trip, as a few hardy winter visitors to the beach in Brigantine have learned since the storm. Large sections of the Atlantic City Boardwalk traveled a good half-mile or more northeast across Absecon Inlet and onto the section of Brigantine known as The Cove - a mostly wild piece of beach at the far south end of the town.
Mark Petitgout, who lives in Galloway Township and likes to take his four-wheel-drive truck and his 4-year-old daughter, Harper, out to The Cove on nice days, says he first noticed all the Atlantic City wood in Brigantine the first time he tried driving out there after the storm.
There was so much wood scattered on the beach, and on the path from civilization to the beach, Petitgout says it was hard to drive around safely. So he organized a cleanup day a few weeks ago that didn't draw many volunteers, but did get some wood out of the way of the wheels.
"This was buried in the sand here, and we dug it up," says Petitgout, standing by a section of Boardwalk maybe 8 feet long and 12 feet wide that's now out beside the main access route into The Cove.
Petitgout, who has access to heavy equipment through his company, Atlantic Arborists, also helped uncover a bunch of 17-foot long timbers that used to be part of the Boardwalk. But out on a recent tour of his favorite beach, he pointed out even longer sections of decking - with much of the wood showing rows of heavy-duty, 4-inch screws now twisted up almost like paper clips.
And along with the volunteer cleanup, public-works crews have also been busy on the beach in recent weeks. So Petitgout says that a lot of the wood he saw on the beach at first is gone - which would explain the growing pile of Boardwalk lumber and other assorted wood at Brigantine's city yard, a mile or so north of The Cove.
"Tell Atlantic City to come and pick up their (junk)," joked John McManus, of Brigantine, who was driving a front-end loader for a cleanup crew on the beach last week.
"We've been finding a lot of Boardwalk out here - like 20- and 30-foot sections," he added.
But Paul Marrandino, another crew member working in his hometown, notes Atlantic City's world-famous wooden walk is hardly the only thing Sandy sent onto the beach in Brigantine.
"This," he said, pointing to another tangled mass of wood, "is just somebody's deck."
And Ernie Purdy. the city's public-works superintendent, has a much longer list of washed-up stuff his workers have had to deal with lately.
There were docks scattered on city streets right after Sandy went by, and "I had Sea-Doos from Avalon," he says, using the brand name of the personal watercraft. "Nothing surprises me anymore."
So no, it didn't shock him a bit to find Atlantic City's Boardwalk on his beach - even when big sections of it wound up well onto the dunes above the storm-slammed beach.
"There are pieces of it scattered up and down the whole beach," Purdy adds. "A lot of it is still out in the meadow."
It also didn't surprise Colleen Connolly when she heard about Atlantic City's Boardwalk washing across a bay and onto another island. She's the administrator in the Monmouth County beach town of Belmar, which really did lose its 1.2-mile long Boardwalk to Sandy - and is already replacing it in a $10 million job that started earlier this month.
Connolly said the farthest she heard of anything from Belmar traveling was about 2 miles - a Boardwalk bench that made it across a bay and inland to Wall Township. Most of the biggest pieces of lumber ended up within six or eight blocks of the beach, she said, but "we really found it throughout the town."
Belmar residents have also found their Boardwalk, and some have called to offer it back to the town. The old decking won't work in the new rebuilding job, which is scheduled to be finished by Memorial Day. But some creative types have found their own ways to put the wood to good use, Connolly adds.
"We had local artists who were having fun with it, turning sections into commemorative pieces," she said. "And we had some folks who were making Christmas decorations out of it."
It’s too late for any crafty people from Brigantine to try that trick. And the town’s mayor, Phil Guenther, says he has absolutely no plans to recycle Atlantic City’s old Boardwalk into a new model on his side of Absecon Inlet.
“No, we’re not contemplating a boardwalk at this time,” Guenther said. “We have beach replenishment going on at the north end (of town), but no boardwalk. ... We’re going to need to spend a few million dollars on on less glamorous infrastructure work.”
But Purdy had a thought for what to do with the wood.
“If (Atlantic City) wants it back, I have no problems giving it back — with a bill,” he joked “I can even deliver it — if they act now.”
For the record, Atlantic City politely declined the offer.
Paul Jerkins, the city’s public-works boss, has about three more football fields worth of Boardwalk waste at Bader Field. So he doesn’t need any more, thank you.
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