Eighteen years after the burned bridge cut off access, Pleasure Beach has been reopened. I didn’t manage to go out there via the water taxis that ran during the summer but a Veterans Day expedition confirmed that the pavilion has been renovated, the boardwalk repaired, and amenities such as picnic tables and trash cans provided.
I confess I’ve expressed some cynicism on the subject but I suppose nearly two decades is still a short wait to the people who run the DMV. Though everything was locked up for the season, the lights were on and we even met a park ranger — the first time I’ve ever encountered someone out there. “It’s a long walk from Stratford,” he said. Yes, but still easier than loading two kids and a dog on a paddleboard.
The beach is pristine, the sand much softer and cleaner than Fairfield’s. There’s talk of building ball fields and visitors are free to bring their bikes over and ride the old cracked roads. It’s so nice you can almost forget you’re in Bridgeport.
A consultant group has revealed a plan for the future of Pleasure Beach:
The plan calls for the construction of food kiosks, public restrooms, sporting fields, a playground, adult fitness equipment, pavilions, walking paths and educational programming on the city-owned property that once was the site of an amusement park.
“You don’t have to do much to make Pleasure Beach a place people will want to go,” said Sorge, a principal of the Hamden-based company hired by the city to map out a plan for the peninsula’s revival.
But, of course, the city must make it accessible. Officials have pledged to reopen the summertime oasis to the public by the end of 2012.
This is Bridgeport so I’ll believe it when I see it.
To be fair, the Finch administration has made more steps toward reopening access than anybody since the bridge burned in 1996. This summer the city replaced the decrepit bridge footing on the mainland side with a sparkly fishing and recreational pier, seen above. Only took them a decade and a half!
The article also says the permitting has been completed to install a floating dock at the base of the pier from which the water taxi will operate. The pier features a cordoned queue on its right-hand side; presumably this will be the entry and exit to a gangway and the floating dock below.
I have a short article on Pleasure Beach, accompanied by two of my photos, in this month’s Connecticut Magazine.
In early July I paddled out to Pleasure Beach to take the photographs. It was my first approach by water, and as such, my first up-close experience with the peninsula’s western shore. There was the usual trash — bottles, plastic bags, wrappers, unmatched flip-flops — but I was astounded by the large items thrown onto the beach. Fifty-five-gallon drums. Traffic beacons. Long lengths of containment booms. Tires — not car tires, but the kind from wheel loaders or other construction vehicles that are as tall as I am. Many of these have been half-buried by the tide, rising out of the sand like sphinx heads and temple columns in a David Roberts painting.
The western end of Pleasure Beach fronts Bridgeport Harbor, so it’s reasonable to assume this detritus originates from the barges and tankers trafficking through the area. Pleasure Beach, depending on how you look at it, is either a desert island pockmarked by the relics of civilization or a desolate landfill.
Last week was the third anniversary of the cottage evictions on Long Beach West. I made my annual photo safari out to the peninsula to see how the stimulus-funded clean-up is progressing.
Beyond warning signs (ignore) and the construction road leading out through the dunes (great for running), I couldn’t see much difference once I arrived at the cottages. Perhaps slightly less detritus scattered about, but since there’s so much, it’s hard to tell if any of it has been taken away. The cottages themselves continue their deterioration and vehicles like the camper and the pickup truck remain. The blue above-ground water pipe, leading from a hydrant in Pleasure Beach to Long Beach West, is still smashed in several places, making it useless for fighting fires.
Meanwhile, the Connecticut Post continues its superficial reporting about Pleasure Beach and LBW with a feature published last week on the status of the proposed water taxi from Bridgeport to the peninsula. I did some preliminary investigation earlier this year into the water taxi, and after fruitless phone calls and two absurd interviews with Elaine Ficarra, the mayor’s communications director, I realized there is no real plan. Bridgeport requested the funds ($1.9 million — an appropriation, not stimulus or recovery money as has sometimes been reported) without any hard ideas of what to do with them. All departments redirected my queries to the mayor’s office, where Ficarra was unable to answer the simplest questions. How much will be spent on renovation of the facilities already existent on the beach, the status of the docks, what (if anything) will be done with the burnt bridge, whether the water taxi will be publicly or privately O&Oed — “I don’t know” and “I’ll have to check” were Ficarra’s stock responses. It’s not even certain the taxi will run out of the East End, which this editorial assumes, or if it will be based at the Port Jeff ferry terminal clear on the other side of the city.
I asked Ficarra if she has been out to Pleasure Beach since the bridge fire. You can guess what her answer was. I can also guess whether the writer of the feature has been out there herself. I ask that question of everybody I interview regarding LBW and Pleasure Beach and an affirmative reply is the rare exception, not the rule. That to me is the most frustrating thing about covering this story: the disconnected conversations I have in which I inquire about things I’ve seen or experienced on the peninsula and the people making decisions about the place have no idea what I’m talking about.