Men play volleyball at Jones Beach in Wantagh.

Men play volleyball at Jones Beach in Wantagh. Credit: File / Timothy Fadek

Optimism over a recovering economy, reasonable gas prices, really nice weather: It's the recipe for a busy Long Island holiday weekend.

Expect more drivers out there this Fourth of July weekend.

That is the assessment of AAA, which says conditions - the economy, weather, gas prices - are ripe for 17.1 percent more travelers this year over last, with an estimated 34.9 million travelers taking a trip of at least 50 miles this holiday weekend.

"The bottom line," said AAA's Robert Sinclair, "is we think people are more optimistic about the economy than they were a year ago and we think they're loosening the purse strings a little bit.

"There is a pent-up wanderlust," he said.

Sinclair, the AAA Automobile Club of New York spokesman, said that in New York, the number of holiday travelers is expected to increase about 8 percent over last year.

About 90 percent of all travelers will travel by car, a recent AAA survey found, and drivers won't be spending as much for gas as they did two years ago, when a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline averaged $4.41 a gallon in New York, Sinclair said. The average Tuesday in New York was $2.96, according to the AAA.

 

Water survival skills

Mary Ann Murphy smiled Tuesday as her grandson Joel got into a pool for the first time in his life.

Murphy's grandson was among six participants Tuesday in "Swim for Survival," a program at St. Joseph's College that teaches water survival skills to children as young as Joel Murphy, 5, and as old as 10.

"I think this program is vital," said Murphy, 65, of Medford. "Children need to learn to respect the water, not fear it."

Murphy noted that she understood the importance of respecting the water because she lost a family member to drowning.

This time of the year should serve as a reminder to parents that "precautions should be taken to prevent incidents both around and in the pool," said Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy.

There have already been two pool drownings this year in Suffolk.

Scores of Long Island camps and private clubs, among other groups, offer swimming lessons at this time of year.

The program was coordinated by the Suffolk County Police Department's Police Athletic League. St. Joseph's College in North Patchogue provides the certified instructors and its on-campus pool.

Open to 40 Suffolk kids at a cost of $20 each, the program consists of four 45-minute lessons over four weeks. The 5 p.m. class still has spots remaining, the PAL said.

In the final lesson, the children jump into the pool with their clothes on and learn how to get out safely.

 

Beach cleanups

Spend some time on the sand this weekend, and you might notice a pleasant change: less trash.

At least that was the case Tuesday at Town of Huntington beaches, where volunteers picked up trash including cigarette butts, beer cans and broken glass, but didn't find heaps of garbage from past years.

The effort was part of the fifth annual Town of Huntington clean beaches event.

"There used to be garbage lining these beaches, even five years ago when we started this cleanup, and now there is much less," said town Councilwoman Susan A. Berland, who co-hosted the event with Northport Village Trustee Thomas Kehoe.

About 40 volunteers with gloves and trash bats gathered at five beaches - Crab Meadow, Hobart, Centerport, Scudder Gold Star Battalion, and Asharoken/Steers.

"It's gratifying to take part, even though there's not much to clean up," said Mary Hall, of Northport, who has participated in the event for the past two years.

Kehoe noted that "with the recent oil spill, people have become more environmentally conscious."

With John Valenti

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