Just ahead of Memorial Day and the unofficial start of summer, Rockaway Beach opened to the public for months of sand, surf and summer fun.
In an effort to accentuate the positives, and assuage the fears of the Rockaway Beach business community, NYC Parks officials joined Queens elected leaders Friday, May 27, to announce the city’s public beaches are open for the summer swim season.
NYC Parks Commissioner Sue Donoghue spoke at the press briefing on the boardwalk at Beach 17th Street in Far Rockaway, far from the popular stretch from Beach 95th Street to Beach 116th Street where there will be access to the sand but no swimming in the Atlantic Ocean until July 15 at the earliest.
The closures are necessary due to the ongoing Army Corps of Engineers construction project to finish building stone groins, or jetties, to slow the beach erosion that has plagued Rockaway Beach for years.
“This resiliency work that we’re doing will help protect this community for decades to come,” Donoghue said. “The work will slow down erosion caused by climate change and ultimately increase beach access, which is what we all want: more beach out here.”
Donoghue said safety is her agency’s top priority, including safety from severe coastal storms and that the beaches west of Beach 117th Street and east of Beach 95th Street will be open for swimming.
“Make no mistake about it, the Rockaways will be open this summer. Sixty-two blocks will be open for swimming,” she said. “And more will be open for activities like surfing, sunbathing and as I saw this morning, great fishing. The entire boardwalk will be open and [so will] our wonderful concessionaire.”
Queens Borough President Donovan Richards was also on hand to celebrate the Rockaway Beach opening. Richards, who grew up in Edgemere, said a trip to the Rockaways is therapeutic, especially after two years of COVID.
Rockaway Beach is open, baby!” Richards said. “As we open up this beach, we remember those who will not be able to sit on the sand on Rockaway Beach, those who won’t be able to swim in the ocean because of this pandemic.”
Richards said that he hoped the beach could be a beacon of inclusion in spite of the turmoil going on in the country.
“It’s been a tough time, without a doubt, in this country as we look at all that’s going on, but one thing that gives me solace is on a day like this when we can open up the beach because when you think about the beach, the beach does not discriminate,” Richards said. “The beach is open to everyone, no matter what your socioeconomic status is. Rockaway Beach is open to you no matter what your race, religion or creed is. Rockaway Beach is open to you. It’s not simply just about a beach opening. It’s about humanity, about freedom. And that’s what this opportunity presents us.”
Rockaway Beach Bazaar co-owners Aaron Broudo and Belvy Klein, who took over the NYC Parks lease for the boardwalk concessions last year, have completely renovated the Beach 97th Street concession building and brought back most of the food vendors.
“There has been a bit of confusion and miscommunication out there regarding temporary beach closures, so let’s set this straight: the Rockaways are open!” they said. “The areas between Beach 95th and Beach 116th that were previously fenced off by the Army Corps of Engineers work have now had their fencing removed in order to accommodate public access to the sand. It’s anticipated that swimming will resume in the area starting in mid-July.”
They will also host free concerts throughout the summer and other activities from lobster boils and movie nights to yoga and volleyball.
“Let’s celebrate our beaches,” Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato said. “What we need to do is make sure people know our beaches are going to be closed for swimming. Our businesses are open. Our beaches are not closed, and that’s our messaging.”
Jonathan Gaska, the district manager of Community Board 14, looks forward to Memorial Day weekend every year.
“This is always a great day,” Gaska said. “This is why you move to Rockaway. This is why you’re here. This is the season,” Gaska said. “Winters are tough; it’s windy, it’s cold. Now it’s beach season — that’s why we come here. That’s why it’s a great place to live, a great place to work.”
Senator James Sanders Jr., who made an Earth Day appearance in the Rockaway surf for Earth Day, spoke of the ongoing issue of climate change.
“I am so glad that we are finally getting serious with the initiatives that we’re coming up with to do something about it,” Sanders said. “Because to those of us who live on this beach, we kind of like this beach. We kind of like living on this beach. And most of all we kind of like living. So we need to step up our efforts on the issue of global warming.”
Sanders also proposed for the government to fund opening the beaches earlier and closing them later and to bring more food vendors to the beach.
With additional reporting by Jenna Bagcal and Paul Frangipane.
See more photos from Rockaway Beach opening day 2022.