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Record Long Island beach crowds seek independence from the heat on July 4th

Some went by land, others by sea, but all shared the goal of finding a cool place to declare themselves free from oppressive temperatures on the nation's birthday.

A group of friends play volleyball at Jones

A group of friends play volleyball at Jones Beach Wednesday, July 4, 2018. Photo Credit: Barry Sloan

This story was reported by Kristopher J. Brooks, Raisa Camargo, Keshia Cluckey, Sabrina Maranda-Escobar and Kadia Goba. It was written by Denise M. Bonilla. 

Take the three H's of a Long Island summer — hazy, hot and humid — add in a fourth H for holiday, and you have a combination that spurred thousands of people to the water this Fourth of July.

Whether it was beaches, pools or boats, people flocked to Long Island on Wednesday looking for a way to cool off and escape the steamy heat that has enveloped the region for nearly a week.

“Thanks to the 4th of July falling in the middle of the week and the warm weather, we’re experiencing record-breaking travel to and throughout Long Island,” said Kristen Jarnagin, president and CEO of the Long Island Convention & Visitors Bureau and Sports Commission.

By midday, Sunken Meadow, Wildwood and Orient Beach state parks had reached capacity and were closed. They reopened later in the afternoon, said George Gorman, state parks deputy regional director. Hempstead Lake and Valley Stream State Park were near capacity, Gorman said, and Robert Moses and Jones Beach also came close to being full.

“We’re having a great day,” he said. “We have good beach crowds, but it’s not overwhelming since it’s a bit overcast.”

At Jones Beach, ocean-seekers streamed steadily across the sand lugging coolers, umbrellas and beach chairs. While some frolicked in the waves, others spread out beach towels and hoped for a tan when the sun peeked through the clouds.

For Alisha McKenzie, 24, her reason for hitting the beach Wednesday wasn't complicated.

“It’s the Fourth of July, and it’s hot, and it's summertime,” McKenzie said.  

Jones Beach, with its nighttime fireworks show, was expected to see 150,000 people throughout the day and into the night, Gorman said. State park officials also had a strong law enforcement presence for the holiday, with an additional private security force screening everyone as they entered, he said.

Adriana Hoyos, 45, of Jamaica, Queens, said she preferred going to the Jones Beach show over watching fireworks in the city.

“I came last year and it’s fabulous,” she said. “It’s like they’re right in front of you and sometimes the little pieces fall on you. It’s divine.”

Even though Long Beach will not have a fireworks show until Friday, that didn’t stop beachgoers hoping for a pyrotechnics display from peering eastward.

“We’re here visiting friends that own a condo, just enjoying the beach, and we’re hoping to see the fireworks from Jones Beach,” said Gina White, 52, of Miller Place.

Long Beach has been the Sessing family's Fourth of July gathering spot for the past six years. There were 15 family members on the sand Wednesday.

“We get together, unwind and talk about our everyday lives and then after the beach we head on down to Valley Stream and head to Fireman’s Field to watch the fireworks,” said Taneshia Sessing, 35, of Valley Stream.

The significance of celebrating America’s birthday was not lost on beachgoers.

At Robert Moses State Park, Jason Goldstein, 47, of Port Washington called the United States “the greatest country in the world” as he partook in that most American of traditions — eating a hamburger with a side of fries.

“It’s a place where you can come from nothing and come to be the most powerful person,” he said of the country on its 242nd birthday. “The opportunities that America offers are like no other.”

Instead of standing at the shoreline, some decided to head out onto the open water, but still found no relief from the crowds.

Islip resident Christopher Hauge took his 30-foot cruiser out Wednesday afternoon for about an hour. The plan was to visit Fire Island “just to see how crowded it was,” Hauge said. When he saw so many people on the island, Hauge said, he headed back to Bay Shore.

“I knew a lot of people were going to be over there,” Hauge said while docking his boat at Bay Shore Marina.

There wasn’t much more space at area pools. At North Woodmere Park, worker Mauricio Batres said the pool, which can accommodate hundreds, reached capacity at about 1 p.m. and workers had visitors wait an hour before entering. Cantiague Park in Hicksville was nearly full all day, said worker Dan Maricondo.

“It was extremely busy,” he said. “This is typically our busiest day of the year.”

But not everyone needed to be close to the water. Peter Fotherizhan, 24, of Rockville Center and his girlfriend Megan Laskowski, 29, Mineola, made their way to Eisenhower Park and spent the afternoon on a blanket looking toward the horizon as they reveled in the midday sun.

“It’s the freedom to do nothing on the Fourth of July,” Fotherizhan said. “That’s the beauty of America.”

The couple said they were hoping to see some fireworks later.

“I definitely think that fireworks on a day like today should bring the country together because we have been so divided in the past couple of years,” Laskowski said.

By late afternoon at Sunken Meadow State Park, an empty patch of grass could not be found. The festivities overflowed into the parking lot where Henry Amon and his family grilled steaks while their children romped on the playground.

Amon, 35, of Queens, said this was his family’s first time spending the holiday at the park and he stressed the importance of celebrating America.

“This is a free country,” he said. “This is the country that we can express our opinions, we can have good jobs, we can be with our families and make barbecues.”

Emily Redondo, 9, of Huntington Station spent the day at nearby Crab Meadow Beach with her parents and two sisters.

“It’s a special day,” she said. “We’re celebrating America and how they won the war.”

When asked what the Fourth of July meant to her, her sister Allison, 5, jumped in with her own answer, shouting, “Party!”

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