By John C. McLoughlin
Memorial Day Weekend traditionally starts Rockaway’s beach season, but residents can’t help but wonder where are the lifeguards. With a shortage of lifeguards throughout New York City, miles of Rockaway’s beaches are closed until further notice.
During the weekday, the beaches that will be open to the public for swimming are Beach 9 to 13 streets, Beach 15 to 20 streets, Beach 42 to 44 streets, Beach 61, Beach 84 to 98 streets, Beach 107, Beach 109, Beach 114, Beach 115, and Beach 145 to 149 streets. On weekends, the beaches open include Beach 9 to Beach 13 streets, Beach 15 to Beach 24 streets, Beach 42 to 44 streets, Beach 61 street, Beach 75 to 109 streets and Beach 114 to Beach 149 streets.
Most of the Far Rockaway and Rockaway Park community will be without lifeguards during the weekday, as well as a 10-block stretch by Dayton Towers in Rockaway Beach.
According to a spokesperson with the New York City Parks Department, the closures are primarily because there are "not enough lifeguards." Other reasons for beach closures include unsafe swimming conditions, erosion, and Piping Plovers, a bird on the Endangered Species List. The federal government has mandated that Beach 44 to 57 streets be closed because the Piping Plovers nest in that vicinity. Residents are not permitted on these beaches.
The Parks Department expects the shortage to last until the end of June, when many lifeguards who are high school and college students are available to work. Parks said they continuously evaluate their lifeguard situation and predict more beaches being open within the next few weeks.
Parks will continue offering free lifeguard training at Far Rockaway High School on Monday nights through July, or until they have sufficient personnel to staff the beaches. Minimum qualifications are that participants must be 16 years of age by the completion of the course and have eyesight no worse than 30/20 in one eye and 40/20 in the other. Those interested in lifeguard opportunities can contact the Parks Department at 212-830-7880.
With the beaches being one of Rockaway’s economic lifelines and assets, especially during summer months, residents and merchants are not too happy with the closings. "The beach is all Rockaway has left," said one resident. "Now it seems they’re trying to take that away from us."
Assemblywoman Pheffer’s office, concerned that Rockaway not be faced with another year of closed beaches, has been working on this issue since March. Jo Anne Shapiro, chief of staff to Pheffer, said there has been communications between their office and Parks Commissioner Henry Stern and she believes the situation will improve.
It is advised that residents not swim in the areas where lifeguards are not posted. Except for the beaches closed for the Piping Plovers, it is legal to walk along the beach and sunbathe, but swimming is at one’s own risk on blocks without lifeguards.