Babylon Citizens Council on the Arts invited local students to paint tunnel art at Gilgo Beach.  Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

The walk to Gilgo Beach just got a lot more colorful.

Babylon Town high school students recently joined with a local artist to revive faded murals in the tunnel that runs under Ocean Parkway from the bay side of the recreation area to the oceanfront.

The students also created new scenes depicting sea life and the surfing culture for which Gilgo Beach is known.

The project is a joint effort between Babylon Town and the nonprofit Babylon Citizens Council on the Arts (BACCA) that organizers say should be finished next week.

Mural Project

Location: Gilgo Beach tunnel

Murals: 11 refurbished, 11 new

Artists: Have included more than 50 local students

On Friday, more than 50 students from Amityville, Babylon, Deer Park, Lindenhurst, North Babylon, West Babylon and Wyandanch high schools took part in the effort, with their art teachers supervising. The group restored 11 murals and added 11 new designs.

The tunnel project's cost is about $6,000, which BACCA funded with a grant from the town’s Local Development Corporation, said Liz Mirarchi, the nonprofit's executive director.

Deer Park artist Ron Becker is helping to coordinate the project and said a sealant will be put over the murals so they can live on for decades.

“The murals create a sense of community, they really bring people together,” said Becker, 71. “Instead of gray concrete, you’re walking through an art gallery, full-size.”

The previous murals were nearly 20 years old, and environmental damage and graffiti left them faded and obscured, Becker said. After town workers repaired cracks in the concrete, they painted the tunnel walls with primer to provide a clean canvas.

For the new murals, the students made full-size templates and used them to outline images on the walls before painting. For the restored murals, Becker traced the images on templates before the repairs and drew the images back onto the walls after a primer coat.

The students painted the entire day Friday, at times standing in ankle-deep water that gathered in the tunnel from tidal runoff, while vehicles rumbled by overhead.

“It’s a fun challenge to take someone else’s work and try to repurpose it into something new,” said West Babylon Senior High School student Joelle Spainer, 18, who was helping to revive a mural of an old Volkswagen bus on the beach with a surfboard propped up against it. “It’s really nice that we get to add our own touches and bring it back to life.”

Painting a mural was a deeply personal experience for Richard Chester, 16. The Amityville Memorial High School student said he has been coming to Gilgo since he was a baby and his family used to own the Gilgo Beach Inn. Chester’s design included a depiction of him on a surfboard, his brother as a lifeguard, his grandfather’s clamming boat and the original inn sign.

His mother, Jaisle Chester, 48, stood nearby Friday with tears in her eyes as he painted.

“Gilgo is a special place and now we have a special footprint here,” she said.

Theresa Christensen, 45, painted the original mural Spainer revived, along with four other murals in the tunnel nearly 20 years ago. The Lindenhurst resident said she got involved in the original project after responding to an online ad looking for muralists as part of an anti-graffiti initiative.

The professional artist said she loved that the murals were being refurbished but wished she and the other original muralists had been invited to help.

“It’s a little bittersweet for me,” she said Monday.

Mirarchi said later Monday that her group recently reached out to those artists and they will be “publicly acknowledged and celebrated,” with photos of the original murals made available through a QR code at the site. 

Joe “Zebo” Citarella, 63, a longtime surfer at Gilgo, watched in appreciation Friday while walking through the tunnel as the students worked. He said the murals are important to the community. 

“You walk through here and it brightens your day,” the Babylon Village resident said. “ Instead of seeing concrete you’re seeing really cool art.”

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