COMMACK — The Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach is an annual summer event that attracts hundreds of thousands of onlookers. After the 2020 show was canceled due to COVID-19, the air show is back for 2021, at 50 percent beach capacity.
At the forefront of ensuring the show goes off without a hitch are CSEA members who work at the beach. The workers spent countless hours preparing Jones Beach for the Memorial Day weekend event.
Prep work includes many responsibilities such as grounds maintenance, making signs, boardwalk details and erecting beach barriers.
“Prep work for the air show usually starts in the beginning of the year, but things don’t physically go into place until May,” said LaTasha Copeland, a park worker. “Some of the work that we do for the air show prepares the beach for the entire season.”
The air show attracts so many people that members have to close the beach to spectators well in advance of the event. Some fields can close as early as 7 a.m., several hours before the show begins.
Inclement weather conditions can present a big problem for beach workers. Members can lose outdoor work time due to poor weather, which leads to a time crunch that members have to work hard to overcome.
Like other state parks, Jones Beach has been especially important during the pandemic. With few options, the beach became one of a handful of activities open to the public. According to beach workers, attendance at the beach in 2020 surpassed the normal visitor rate by far.
However, it is more than the pandemic that keeps people coming back.
“A lot people consider Jones Beach a part of growing up on Long Island,” said Copeland. “They may move away, but when they come back to visit, they always stop by Jones Beach.”
The beach workers want the public to know how much care goes into preparing the facility for the public.
“People don’t understand how much work we put into making sure this park is comfortable for the public,” said Copeland. “There are members working 12-hour shifts to make sure this beach is up to par for the air show. CSEA workers really go above and beyond.”
Because maintaining state beaches and parks is such a large undertaking, Long Island State Parks and Recreation Local workers often travel between sites to lend assistance where needed. One of these sites is Wildwood State Park. The 600-acre park, which hosts one of the state’s busiest campgrounds, presents challenges for workers.
Members stay busy maintaining the beach, biking trails, picnic area and campgrounds. In addition, the crew covers Brookhaven State Park, a satellite location of Wildwood State Park.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, these parks have been busier than ever.
“Last summer, we were fully booked every weekend,” said Wildwood State Park Supervisor Matthew Canning. “We had around 500,000 visitors to this park [Wildwood] last year.”
“We would have to shut the park down every weekend because we were at capacity,” said Wildwood State Park Worker Jimmy Eastwood.
Members are expecting this summer to be just as busy, but they are prepared. Like everywhere else, adjustments have been made to practice Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for COVID-19.
“Once COVID-19 hit, we stationed workers at the bathrooms to clean and sterilize the facility every hour,” said Eastwood. “We also have staff monitoring bathroom occupancy to practice social distancing.”
Workers also maintain the park’s cottages, which were built by CSEA members who work for the State Parks Infrastructure Crew. The crew also built 10 cottages at Heckscher State Park.
If cottage dwellers or campground patrons have electric or plumbing issues, park workers are there to help.
All of their hard work isn’t going unnoticed by park-goers who often comment on Wildwood State Park’s cleanliness. Workers are just happy to provide a valuable service to the community.
“Even during the world wars, state parks stayed open,” said Eastwood. “It feels good to know that we were providing a place for the public to go and enjoy themselves, when a lot of other places were still closed down.”
— Wendi Bowie