Monday, May 26, 2008

Schuylkill Beach not the hit some thought it would be

Fairmount Park, Schuylkill Banks and the City of Philadelphia launched Schuylkill Beach on Friday to kick off the summer season in Center City. The total cost of the project was $5,000, which was $55,000 under the estimated cost.

"We really didn't have to do much. Most of the money spent went towards hiring a lifeguard. Who, incidentally, called in sick both Friday and Saturday leaving me to man the chair," said Garry Tumble, head of River Beach Phila., a division of the Constitution Center.

The aim of the beach is to provide downtown residents a viable beach option within Center City limits. There is also hope that the new beach will lure some of the Pennsylvania residents that annually leave the state for New Jersey's ocean front resort towns.

"Schuylkill Beach may not have a boardwalk, rides, atmosphere, waves, salt water, swimming, surfing or edible fish, but we do have a 'no beach tags' policy," said Tumble. This policy alone is expected to draw 10-20 people.

The beach is located on the Schuylkill River next to the busy recreation trail that leads to Valley Forge. It is just south of both the Spring Garden St and Dr Martin Luther King Jr bridges.

Beach goers must navigate the steep twenty feet embankment to reach the sand. There are no steps or path down to the water's edge. "It was a cost thing. You just kind of have to go for it," said Schuylkill Banks director of sales, Jackie Meltz.

Swimming is not permitted at the beach, but officials feel this won't turn people away. "You're really not suppose to swim but if someone happens to go into the water and swim, we probably won't say anything," said Meltz.

The beach is only accessible during low tides. "Most city residents don't realize the lower Schuylkill is affected by tides," said Dan Hix, head of the Department of City Tides. The tides only reveal the beach for several hours a day.

The beach can comfortably accommodate between 300 and 350 sun seekers when the tide is at it's lowest. "It's a first come first serve basis and because there is so little room the bathers in the front will be asked to vacate the beach first as the tide creeps in," said Meltz.

The three-day holiday weekend only drew eight total residents to the river beach. "We didn't advertise and I didn't really tell anyone about it and it's only the first weekend of the summer," said Tumble, trying to explain the disappointingly low turnout.

When asked how he heard about the beach one bather responded,"I didn't. I just came down here to enjoy some sun, sand, beach, and some light swimming."

Another beach visitor originally from Chicago said,"It's like Lake Michigan. I look out onto the Schuylkill and it takes me to Lake Michigan."

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