All state parks on Long Island will be open by Memorial Day weekend, but visitors will see continued construction and debris cleanup with some facilities still closed after damage by superstorm Sandy.
The Island's state beaches and inland parks sustained almost $100 million in damage from the Oct. 29 storm, according to the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
"It's amazing how far we have come in such a very short time given the level of devastation," Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey said.
Within days of the storm, park employees, other state agencies and contractors -- 17 just for work at Jones Beach and Robert Moses -- were repairing damaged facilities and preparing to replace sand carried away by the storm surge.
"Sandy pretty much touched every park on Long Island and destroyed most of our coastal parks," Harvey said. "There was a huge amount of tree loss throughout all of our parks."
Robin Dropkin, executive director of Parks & Trails New York, an advocacy group, said, "The state's pledge to reopen the parks by Memorial Day is a real testament to how loved they are and to the recognition of the important role they play as recreational, historic, cultural and natural landmarks."
Amount of access to vary
Robert Moses and Orient Beach remain closed while crews repair access roads. The Central Mall at Jones Beach, and the beach and trails at Wildwood in Wading River are still off-limits. All are expected to open to some degree by the holiday weekend at the end of May.
Orient Beach also was among the most seriously damaged parks. A section of the 2-mile access road was destroyed, and all buildings were flooded. Harvey said the access road should be rebuilt by Memorial Day weekend.
At Caleb Smith State Park Preserve in Smithtown, replacement of four damaged wooden trail bridges will continue into the summer, as will repairs to the Plank Road at Caumsett State Historic Park Preserve in Lloyd Harbor, according to the parks department. Nearly 300 trees along the Caumsett roads and trails were damaged or destroyed. More than 60 broken limbs remain dangling in the trees and must be removed before trails can open.
Visitors to several state parks sites, including Belmont Lake, Captree, Connetquot River preserve and Valley Stream, will find continued tree and debris removal as well as fence or building repair work.
Work at Jones Beach
The agency's biggest repair site is Jones Beach, the flagship of Long Island parks.
"The bad news is that the flooding enveloped every part of the park. It severely damaged our infrastructure, our boardwalks, buildings," Harvey said. "But we plan to replace or restore or repair all of them. We'll open on Memorial Day and have a fabulous air show."
The surf-battered mile of boardwalk near the Central Mall will be repaired by Memorial Day weekend, but the railings may not be installed by then, officials said. Temporary barriers may be used. Repairs to Field 10 fishing piers and the boat basin will continue into summer. And some new storm-resistant lifeguard buildings and umbrella stands will be under construction.
Dredging is under way in Fire Island Inlet and the State Boat Channel north of Robert Moses to supply sand for replenishing eroded beaches at Fields 4 and 5. The agency hopes to have 500,000 to 600,000 cubic yards of sand moved onto the beaches by the holiday weekend, officials said.
The parks agency expects most of the repair and rebuilding funding to come from the federal government, primarily from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Some matching money from the state will be required, but the state budget includes that funding, Harvey said, adding she hopes there will be no impact on her agency's budget.
Preparing for next storm
In addition to repairing existing facilities, short-term protections are being added to some parks -- including raising utilities and plumbing -- to buffer facilities from wave damage in the future, Harvey said.
For the longer term, the agency has started "resiliency studies" for all of the 30 state shoreline and coastal parks. The work will continue over the next year.
"We'll look at how we can redesign, realign, resituate, and replace various aspects of our parks to mitigate future flooding," Harvey said.
Among the studies is determining whether 820 feet of the most damaged boardwalk at Robert Moses Field 5 should be replaced. The agency decided to remove those two sections while rebuilding the other two-thirds of the walkway by Memorial Day weekend.
"Severe weather events are becoming the new norm," Dropkin said. "While making sure the parks are open and able to be enjoyed by the public is important, it's equally important to ensure that we rebuild smarter and protect these treasured places and their surrounding communities from the impacts of sea level rise and future storms."
WHERE PARKS STAND:
Status of state parks on Long Island for the Memorial Day weekend. For full details about damage to the parks, and their status for the holiday weekend and into the summer, go to the interactive map at newsday.com:
BAYARD CUTTING ARBORETUM: A contractor will be removing stumps and debris into the summer.
BELMONT LAKE: Removal of downed trees and repair of fences will continue.
BETHPAGE: Fully open with all tree removal completed.
BRENTWOOD: Fence repair work will continue into summer.
CALEB SMITH STATE PARK PRESERVE: Replacement of four damaged wooden trail bridges and tree removal will continue past Memorial Day weekend.
CAMP HERO: Cleanup of damaged trees will continue past Memorial Day.
CAPTREE: Roofing repairs are under way. Launch ramp floating docks are being restored.
CAUMSETT STATE HISTORIC PARK PRESERVE: Repairs to extensive damage have been completed except for a portion of Plank Road.
GILGO BEACH: Fully open.
HECKSCHER: West Beach will be fully open with access for water sports; the Field 7 bike path will be temporary relocated.
HEMPSTEAD LAKE: Tree removal and building repairs will be complete.
HITHER HILLS: Repair of roof damage on many buildings will continue past Memorial Day.
MONTAUK DOWNS STATE PARK: Repair of roof damage on many buildings and cleanup of downed trees will continue past Memorial Day.
ORIENT BEACH: Fully open with repair work continuing.
PLANTING FIELDS ARBORETUM STATE HISTORIC PARK: Some hiking trails may remain closed. Repair of the Camellia Greenhouse roof will continue into the summer.
ROBERT MOSES: Three lifeguard shacks will be replaced. Parking and beach access will be determined after beach replenishment, which will continue until the end of June.
SHADMOOR STATE PARK: Cleanup of downed trees will continue past Memorial Day.
SAG HARBOR GOLF COURSE: Cleanup of downed trees will continue past Memorial Day.
GOVERNOR ALFRED E.SMITH / SUNKEN MEADOW: Fully open except for access to an eastern part of the park where dike was breached. Cleanup of hundreds of uprooted or damaged trees will continue.
VALLEY STREAM: Tree cleanup will continue
WILDWOOD STATE PARK: Beach, tree and trail cleanup and repair work will continue.
SOURCE: New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation