Rockaway Beach—Now Open

 Rockaway Beach—Now Open

By Katie McFadden

The beach is open, and the lifeguards are back! The momentous occasion was celebrated Friday, May 26 with the annual beach opening ceremony. This year, everyone gathered at the brand-new Beach 94th amphitheater for the opening celebration.

The amphitheater was mentioned by many as part of NYC Parks’ greater effort to bring six new capital projects to the shore front, an effort totaling $33 Million, showing the city’s effort to invest in the biggest and best beach town in New York City. “There’s really no other beach quite like this one,” Iris Rodriguez-Rosa, First Deputy Commissioner for NYC Parks said at the opening. “This is the largest beach in the city. We’re thrilled to welcome all New Yorkers and visitors back to our shores again.”

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards joined in singing Rockaway’s praises. “It’s a great morning to be at the best beach on the eastern seaboard and certainly the best beach in New York City, and that’s Rockaway Beach—the crown jewel. Richards thanked NYC Parks, the DOT, Army Corps and FEMA for all of the new coastal development in recent years. “It is truly remarkable to continue to see the rebirth of this beach. I know we’re going to have millions of visitors across our beach season. We want them to spend their money, supporting our local small businesses. We want to thank your small businesses who certainly are a major economic engine for our community,” Richards said. He thanked NYC Parks for the $33 investment in the new parks, playgrounds, labyrinth and amphitheater before holding a moment of silence for those who we’ve lost over the years due to drowning, sending a solemn reminder to always swim where lifeguards are on duty. He then acknowledged the start of Memorial Day weekend, thanking those who’ve served. “Freedom is not free,” he said.

With that said, the Channel View School for Research marching band was then asked to play the National Anthem.

Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato also thanked those who made the ultimate sacrifice before speaking about the city’s investment in Rockaway and her efforts to prevent drownings in Rockaway in the future. “I’ve been a leading advocate in Albany to make sure we have investments in preventing childhood drowning, which is the number one killer of our youth. Children are drowning and dying in water because there is no education and I will not sleep ‘til we find pathways,” she said, adding that lifeguards should be paid even more, as they hold an important job in keeping our beaches safe. She suggested that Far Rockaway High School’s pool be used for regular water safety education.

Assemblyman Khaleel Anderson reiterated the need for the state’s swim safety legislation to pass and lightened the mood with some beach-themed jokes. “We have so many problems in our community, but we have incredible people to resolve them, and I’d say we have 99 problems but lying on the beach ain’t one,” Anderson said.

Councilwoman Joann Ariola took note of the noticeable progress in Rockaway since Hurricane Sandy. “I’m so proud to stand here on a roadway that was destroyed at one time but through the work of community organizations, government officials and the former councilmembers, and the amount of money that was put into resiliency for this strip, you can see it as we stand under this amphitheater. We will make so much use of this amphitheater. It’s so great to be here,” Ariola said. “We love Rockaway. We’re dedicated to Rockaway because we made a promise to make Rockaway come back to what it was. But I don’t think it came back to what it was… I think it came back better. We know Rockaway is a special place but by having things like this take place, we make everyone else know how special Rockaway is. It’s the spirit of Rockaway that keeps us going, the love that people have for Rockaway that makes we, as your elected officials, so committed to seeing Rockaway really thrive.”

Mayor Eric Adams was a no show at this year’s beach opening, and some local elected officials were also missing, including Congressman Gregory Meeks, Senator James Sanders and Councilwoman Selvena Brooks-Powers, but all sent representatives to the ceremony.

Community Board 14 District Manager Jonathan Gaska also acknowledged the progress made since Hurricane Sandy, thanked Parks, the lifeguard and Parks Enforcement Patrol, and reminded folks to not swim without lifeguards. “This beach is no joke,” he said.

NYC Parks Commissioner Sue Donohue acknowledged the new Parks’ projects saying, “We have all these wonderful new amenities that we are so thrilled to be able to bring to the Rockaways. We know how important this community is, we know how important this beach is and we know how important these capital projects are,” she said. She also mentioned the new free sunscreen dispensers that are now available on the boardwalk, which Gerard Walsh of Episcopal Health Services and Impact Melanoma, which are partnering on this effort, spoke more about, reminding folks to not just stay safe in the water, but out of the water by protecting their skin.

Rodriguez-Rosa provided all with some water safety tips. “Lifeguards are here for our protection, so make sure to follow their direction, never go in the water when there’s no lifeguard on duty, never leave children unattended near the water, even when lifeguards are present, and follow the signs and flags,” she said, adding that new red flags that now have the international symbol for “No Swimming,” will be on closed beaches, in hopes that more people will know what the red flags mean.

NYC Parks Queens Borough Commissioner Jackie Langsam ended saying, “We’re here today to open the biggest and the best. Rockaway beach is a 7.5 mile stretch and has a 5-mile-long boardwalk. This makes Rockaway not only the biggest beach in the city, but the largest urban beach in the United States. It isn’t just these things that make Rockaway beach a special place, but it’s the residents that call this place home. The Rockaway community. They make it special.”

The ceremony concluded with more music played by the Channel View band, photo ops with the NYC Plover Project’s giant plover mascot, and giveaways and resources at tables. And there was plenty of time left for many to head to Connolly’s up the block to enjoy the first frozen of the season during their summer opening, another big Rockaway summer tradition.

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