Life is an (Orchard) Beach

Any noticeable traces of Superstorm Sandy were gone from the Bronx’s Riveria as it opened for the season – unlike other beaches around the city.

Parks department employees and volunteers were able to get the beach back in order in several weeks after Sandy, said Bronx Parks Department Commissioner Hector Aponte, among those celebrating it’s seasonal return on the Friday start of Memorial Day weekend.

Hundreds of hexagonal paving stones on the north and south end of the beach promenade were strewn about, rocks on jetties at either end of the beach were also displaced, and about 60 mature trees in the park itself were blown down.

“Today we kind of celebrate the resiliency of the city as we come back from the devastation wrought on us by Hurricane Sandy,” said Aponte at the annual ceremonial opening of the beach on Friday, May 24.

Aponte said the beach draws an estimated 25,000 people on a summer Sunday, with up to 50,000 on holiday weekends.

Events were held on the same day throughout the city at Brooklyn’s Coney Island, Queen’s Rockaway Beach and Staten Island’s Midland Beach, all of which were hit particularly hard by the storm, he said.

“Within a couple of weeks of the storm, we were able to have this beach pretty much ready to be opened,” Aponte said, “but if you go down to Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island, the devastation is extraordinary. The city has made a tremendous effort in getting all those beaches back in order, and all the beaches will be open.”

“We inaugurate another season and celebrate another season of Orchard Beach,” said Congressman Jose Serrano. “For those of us who have the good fortune to be born, or raised as I was, in the Bronx, we know what Orchard Beach means to us.”

Serrano remembered how his parents got carts full of Spanish-American food through to the beach on the bus when he was a child, and how he still exercises on its promenade and enjoys the festive atmosphere in summertime.

Community Board 10 chairman John Marano thanked the staff of the Parks Department and the volunteers that work to keep the beach clean, and pointed out how Orchard Beach is an important resource for the entire city.

“Can Manhattan say they have a beach?” asked Marano. “They can’t. So let’s not forget us,” in terms of Bronx Parks getting their fair share of support in the city budget. Also attending the opening ceremony were Assemblyman Michael Benedetto, Community Board 10 district manager Kenneth Kearns, Bronx Chamber of Commerce CEO and president Lenny Caro, 45th Precinct Captain James McGeowan, as well a representatives from the Owen Dolen Recreation Center’s senior program, the East Bronx History Forum, and Bronx Council on Environmental Quality.

Elizabeth Rodriguez, 66, who attended the opening, said she has been coming to the beach her whole life, having grown up in Longwood as a child, and in Williamsbridge as a teenager attending Evander Childs High School.

“I am born and raised in the Bronx, this was always my beach,” she said. “It still continues to be a wonderful beach.”

Patrick Rocchio can be reach via e-mail at procchio@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 742-3393

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