Rockaway Beach Attendance Dipped by Half in Wake of Sandy

By Katie Honan on September 24, 2013 8:49am 

 Rockaway Beach on Labor Day weekend.
Rockaway Beach on Labor Day weekend.
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DNAinfo/Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska

ROCKAWAY BEACH — Attendance at the Hurricane Sandy-battered Rockaway beachfront took a dive by more than half this summer, the Parks Department said.

Approximately 3.3 million people visited Rockaway Beach this summer — down from the estimated 7.8 million visitors the year before — Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski said at a recent community meeting at Scholars' Academy.

Portions of the beach remained closed throughout the summer due to heavy erosion from the hurricane.

And an extensive sand dredging project continued to close beaches throughout the summer, including more than a mile of oceanfront over Labor Day weekend. The boardwalk was also largely destroyed.

"It seemed slower," said Lindsay Robinson, 37, who is a partner in the concessions stands on Beach 97th Street. 

The area in front of the concession as well as hundreds of feet surrounding them were closed for most of the summer due to erosion and, later, for dredging.

"We had a usable beach for five days," she said.

The Parks Department blamed the downturn on a return to an old way of measuring attendance, adding that the numbers for 2013 was similar to previous summers, which didn't reach more than 4 million.

In 2010, an estimated 2,918,850 visitors came to Rockaway; In 2011, that number was estimated to be 3,656,000.

Parks supervisors take an estimate each day, based on sampling areas of the beach, according to a spokesman.

In 2012, the Parks Department "experimented with a new estimation method, surveying the beach at different times than before," a spokesman said.

"Although attendance definitely increased in 2012, we adjusted again this year, resulting in numbers more in line with what we’ve seen," he said.

It was not clear why the Parks Department adjusted the counting method in 2012 and again this year, but Deputy Commissioner Liam Kavanagh said counting crowds is required by the Department of Health, but isn't always perfect.

"Estimating crowds is more art than science," he said.

In the wake of the storm last October, the city and the Parks Department scrambled to repair beaches around the five boroughs.

The city invested more than $140 million to repair intact sections of the boardwalk, renovate damaged beach buildings and create new boardwalk islands, as well as install some interim protective measures.

Transportation to the peninsula, which took a major hit after the storm, was also restored. The A train was back up and running by Memorial Day, a new ferry service was instituted and several independent beach buses made trips there.

Robinson said not having a full boardwalk hurt her sales, with many local customers telling her they had a harder time visiting the "boardwalk island," which has a bar and small restaurants.

The lack of communication about when beaches would be open or closed was frustrating, but she's still hopeful for next year.

"This summer was about building back," she said.

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