Jack Riordan, of Brightwaters, is spokesman forthe Long Island Beach Access Group.
Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer, one of the best seasons to be a Long Islander. Our Island is blessed with countless beautiful beaches and parks, which offer almost all of the needed ingredients for many enjoyable outdoor activities.
What's the missing ingredient? Broader parkland access.
Last year, as a member of a group dedicated to the safe enjoyment of our natural resources, I approached the governor-appointed commissioners of the Long Island Region of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Our concern was opening up the unguarded and more remote waterfront areas of Long Island to activities beyond what's currently permitted there: sport fishing.
For at least five decades, these areas have required state-issued 4x4 vehicle-access permits, and only for the purpose of fishing. Activities such as surfing, windsurfing, kayaking, as well as camping, are listed on these permits as prohibited.
While many Long Islanders became interested in water sports from the encouragement of parents, families and friends, the prior generations did nothing to make it possible to enjoy these other sports at the state-owned and operated beaches here. Preceding generations created a balkanized environment, dividing outdoor lovers into separate groups: those who enjoy the exciting sport of fishing, and those who connect with nature through beachcombing or catching a barreling wave. Many prime locations on Long Island are not open to everyone throughout the year -- but the situation has started to improve.
In 2009, for instance, the Town of Babylon offered a 4x4 wave surfing beach access permit. All permits sold out before the day's end, surprising the town's Parks Department. During any nice weekend that summer, there were usually 75 to 100 vehicles at this popular beach -- even though only 50 permits had been issued. Last year, the program was modified to enable more residents to take advantage of it. While in 2009, the number of permits for nonresidents was limited to 25 of the 50 issued, in 2010 it was 25 of 100. Again, all permits sold in a day.
The late winter storms of 2010 decimated this beach, unfortunately, and it has since been closed. The surfers who sought out this location now must find other beaches to visit. There are other Long Island locations where the waves are ideal for surfing, but some are going to New Jersey or other coastal states. Even though New York has many excellent surfing beaches, the state needs to change the permitting restrictions to allow the sport.
This month, the Long Island parks commissioners voted unanimously -- over the objection of a sizable group of fishermen -- to recommend expanding sport activities at the non-oceanfront parks of our region. The regional director has agreed to hammer out a program with input from the interested parties.
When it is all done, we expect the state parks will be expanding their current offerings to include stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking and canoeing at Heckscher State Park; windsurfing at Orient Beach and, in a more limited fashion, because of its tight path to the shore and serious erosion problems, at Wildwood State Park; and, once a new parking lot near the beach is completed, car-top launching of canoes at Caumsett State Park.
The state parks department is also preparing a master plan for Sunken Meadow State Park, which may include expanded sports access. Windsurfing and kayaking has already been permitted here for at least a decade.
While some anglers claim the addition of these sports at these sites will have a negative impact on fishing, there are many miles of remote and unguarded beaches that go underutilized throughout the year by both fishermen and other groups. There's an opportunity for sharing these special resources in a safe manner.
More, safe access leads to more park patrons, more opportunities for our state parks to fulfill their mission to Long Island residents and visitors, and more money to roll back into the system from admission and special permit fees.
Real change happens in small steps. The Long Island Beach Access Group has been working for more than 10 years to open up our state parks. These recent developments are a sign of progress in our quest for expanded access and a cause for celebration. Now we all need to continue to work together to permanently lift access restrictions and allow for more universal experiences along our precious waterfronts.