As similar as they are, the Downbeach towns of Ventnor, Margate and Longport are unique in the amenities they offer beachgoers. Their approach to Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive order allowing Jersey Shore beaches to open Memorial Day weekend are just as unique. Ventnor has a boardwalk and beach-block parking, and a degraded section of beach in the south end; Margate has wider beaches and the popular Decatur Avenue beach in front of Lucy the Elephant, which has in recent years become a Memorial Day Mecca for thousands of graduating high school seniors; and Longport’s beaches are also wide but a bit more bucolic with fewer crowds.

We asked leaders in all three towns to address requirements of Executive Order 173, which Murphy signed Thursday, May 14. In it, Murphy is requiring towns to limit capacity, enforce social distancing, establish protocols for lifeguards, sanitize restrooms and establish public outreach and education campaigns.

Although public officials in each of the towns were collaborating on creating a unified plan for all the beaches south of Atlantic City, they have decided to address concerns in each of their towns because of their uniqueness.

This is the last  in a series of articles highlighting each of the Downbeach towns’ approach to opening the beaches.

Margate is planning to open its beach to sunbathing and swimming Memorial Day weekend.

According to Administrator Richard Deaney, the city has taken a consistent approach over the last few weeks to keep Margate’s beach open for walking, running and fishing, with little to no problems.

“Now that the governor has lifted many beach restrictions statewide, Margate too will open its beaches on Friday May 22 for sunbathing,” he said in a release.

The Board of Commissioners is slated to adopt its annual Beach Patrol coverage resolution at its meeting on Thursday, May 21.

As is normally the case, the city will start the season providing Beach Patrol coverage on five beaches – Clermont, Huntington, Thurlow, Benson and Madison avenues. Bathing will be restricted with no floatation devices. Lifeguard coverage will be added as the season progresses. As always, bathers must swim in front of the lifeguards and practice social distancing with lifeguards.

Guarded Beach Schedule:

  • June 6 – Clermont, Huntington, Jerome, Osborne, Thurlow, Washington and Jefferson avenues
  • June 13 – Argyle and Gladstone avenues
  • June 20 – Vendome, Benson and Monroe avenues

The city will require beach badges beginning June 6. Badges can be purchased 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily at the Martin Bloom Pavilion, 101 S. Huntington Ave., behind the Margate City Public Library. Pre-season badges are $7, $3.50 for seniors. The price increases to $15 on June 1 for all badges. Active military and veteran badges are free with proof of service. You must wear a mask when purchasing badges.

Thrilling Thursdays, which allowed people to access the beach without a tag, is cancelled for the season, as is grilling on the beach on holiday weekends.

Deaney said the Police Department will decide how and with what methods they will use to enforce social distancing. Masks are not required in public areas but are encouraged when people are in close proximity.

“We are optimistic with our large beaches that this will pose fewer problems than some other more crowded beaches,” Deaney said.

When asked how the city would control throngs of senior week teens celebrating the end of their high school years who gather on the beach in front of Lucy the Elephant, Commissioner of Public Safety John Amodeo said the city has a tool it didn’t have in prior years – Gov. Phil Murphy’s mandated physical distancing guidelines that limit groups to 10 people or less.

“If the kids do come down and start to congregate, we’re going to have to separate them,” he said.

Last year, the teens gathered in the thousands, but were respectful of police. One was even spotted cleaning up after his peers, police said. There were fewer teens gathering at the Wawa store on Ventnor and Washington avenues, dubbed “Club Wa,” after the convenience store hired its own security details.

Amodeo said Margate has delayed opening the beach for more than exercise because it wanted to see what happened in other cities that opened their beaches early, such as in neighboring Ocean City and Longport, which opened their beaches to sunbathing last weekend.

“We wanted to wait to monitor other towns before proceeding with our protocols,” he said. “Ocean City’s beach was fine, but the boardwalk was crowded. Longport had a larger crowd than normal, but it was not overcrowded, and people kept their distance.”

Margate public safety officials believe people have learned how deadly the COVID-19 virus can be and will be focused on protecting themselves, he said.

“Although there is really no way to control the volume of people who go to the beach, our beaches are wide enough and long enough to keep people separated.”

The Police Department will have sufficient personnel on hand, including officers on bicycles, patrolling the streets and three officers will patrol the beach on ATVs.

Amodeo said the Beach Patrol would station two lifeguards on each of the open beaches, with one on a vehicle fully-equipped with personal protective equipment and one on a stand. All are equipped with radios.

“Margate now requires lifeguards to be EMT certified,” he said. “There will be two lifeguard EMTs in trucks equipped with PPE who will patrol from each end of the city.”

Fire Chief Dan Adams is working on installation of 30 signs showing the Do’s and Don’t’s for beachgoers.

The restrooms at the Bloom Pavilion will be open and cleaned several times a day, he said. The city will also install 30 hand sanitizer dispensers in various locations in the city.

Amodeo said it is up to everyone to do their part to ensure a safe summer season.

“We have all been educated on a phrase we have never heard before – social distancing,” he said. “It’s up to every citizen and visitor to be respectful of the law to keep things safe for themselves, our employees and each other. If we don’t, we’re not helping ourselves or our country. We have to be a team and work together.”

Deaney said the city’s tennis courts, pickleball courts and playgrounds would remain closed until further notice.

Surfing and kayaking is allowed on Delavan to Essex avenues, and Kenyon to Nassau avenues; surfing, kayaking and sailing is allowed on Barclay to Clarendon, Iroquois to Plymouth and Pembroke to Sumner avenues.

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Nanette LoBiondo Galloway

Award winning journalist covering news, events and people of Atlantic County for more than 20 years.