SEASIDE HEIGHTS, N.J. – Somehow, after years of living underground and waiting for some unfathomable signal that it's time, cicadas suddenly know when it's time to surface and swarm.
Teenagers and college students apparently have that same ability when it comes to the Jersey Shore's beaches opening.
On Friday, local governments gave the signal and beachgoers returned to the sand at some of New Jersey's most popular beaches, including Seaside Heights and Point Pleasant Beach. Both were conducting what they considered trial-run openings to see how well crowds could be contained, and how well they adhered to social distancing and other measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Teens and young adults were particularly well-represented in Seaside Heights, which for generations has been the place to go the day after graduation, or pretty much any other time when sunshine and the opposite sex were priorities.
Yet despite the teen migration, things were decidedly under control at Seaside Heights, a place with a reputation for not always being so. It was, you may recall, the setting for the infamous MTV show “Jersey Shore.” On Friday, there were more families with children than Snooki wannabes.
“It feels real nice to be here; we've barely been out,” said Kate Shouldice of Toms River, who brought her children ranging in age from 8 to 3 to stroll the boardwalk. “It'll be nice when everything gets back to normal, and it feels like it's been doing that a little bit lately.”
“It feels good to be out,” echoed Pat Sullivan of Toms River. “After the spring we had, it's been brutal.”
The two beaches were among those that reopened a day after New Jersey's Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy gave guidance to shore towns on how to reopen their beaches safely amid the virus pandemic.
Directives include keeping at least six feet (2 meters) apart, except for relatives or household members. Masks are encouraged but not required on the sand. Bathrooms, showers and changing rooms will be open and cleaned frequently.
Whether or not vacationing hordes will heed restrictions meant to keep everyone safe was on the minds of many beachgoers Friday.
“I think people will try to social distance,” said Cedric Sweat of Stone Mountain, Georgia, as he walked the Seaside Heights boardwalk. “But I'm already seeing people doing things they shouldn't be doing.”
“I think some people will get mad” at some of the restrictions, said Deb Ferrier of Point Pleasant Beach as she and some friends sat on the beach. “I don't want even go near this place on Memorial Day weekend.”
Greg Barr of Point Pleasant Beach predicted the summer would be a mixed bag, with older beachgoers largely obeying virus-mitigation efforts — and younger ones, not so much.
“Younger kids, college-age, I don't think will do as good a job,” said Barr, who himself looked barely older than a college student. “There will be some frustration, and some people will take chances, I'm sure.”
Paul Kanitra, Point Pleasant Beach's mayor, said the beach that reopened Friday in his town is nice and wide after a recent replenishment and should have enough room for at least 500 people to safely use it while staying far apart from each other. He said the town would examine how the initial reopening goes before deciding whether to remove restrictions designed to minimize outside visitors, including limiting parking near the beach to residents-only.
“We're optimistic about it,” he said. “It's certainly not a situation anyone wants to be in. There's no playbook for this.”
Follow Wayne Parry at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC.