Just in time for Memorial Day weekend, New Jersey’s beaches are opening up. Desperate to salvage the unofficial start of summer, the state has allowed beaches to open at the discretion of local governments, and they’re crossing their fingers that people behave responsibly.
However, it’s not just Jersey residents flocking to the beach this weekend. People from New York and Pennsylvania are expected to visit Jersey’s beaches in droves, eager for a Memorial Day holiday that feels somewhat normal. But the old adage applies here: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
While short-term vacation rentals likely won’t start until June, some of the beaches and boardwalks are already packed. Beach towns along the Jersey seaboard are trying to strike a balance between offering a fun, welcoming environment, and mitigating the rowdy atmosphere that typically defines this weekend.
Michael Cahill, fire chief for Ventnor, New Jersey, told The Philadelphia Inquirer that social distancing this weekend is “never going to happen. As soon as it gets crowded, it’ll be like Fourth of July every day because there’s nothing else for anybody to do.”
Most places will be relying on signage, education, and police suggestions to keep people at a safe distance from one another. Some towns won’t be selling daily beach tags, but “our beach-badge people will be out there,” said Tom McQuillen, Sea Isle City’s police chief. “When we reach a certain capacity, there may come a time when they may advise people the beach is pretty full, why don’t you head to another beach.”
Dine-in restaurants are still closed, as is outdoor dining. And while open containers are technically banned on the boardwalk, to-go cocktails are permitted in most areas. Some towns, like Margate, are looking at allowing restaurants to utilize parking lots and sidewalk space for socially distanced tables, to impose some measure of order on the drinking scene.
Each town is handling Memorial Day weekend differently, but they’re all doing their best to navigate unfamiliar waters. If you do decide to take a beach trip this weekend — whether to New Jersey or elsewhere — be aware of your fellow beachgoers, and of authorities. Comply with local regulations, stay six feet apart, pick up your trash, and enjoy the holiday responsibly.