Insights Shared On Eventful Island Weekend
I am a writer, journalist, and public education consultant writing to share some insights.
We have spent the past week at Assateague Island State Park, and while we had highlights, there were definitely some lows. Today (Sunday), in early afternoon, with the drowning of a fellow camper in the rip currents, was the lowest. Or so I thought.
Apparently, there had been a host of rescues throughout the day, and by sunset we watched not the sun, but the search and rescue crews and helicopter overhead looking for and finding a body – that of an 18-year-old male pulled from a raging ocean that is one campsite away and whose sounds I cannot drown out.
We have been at Assateague Island State Park for a week, one of the two annual pilgrimages we have made since 2014. I came here to work on The Grief Recovery Handbook by John James and Russell Friedman and didn’t pick it up. Instead I switched to a novel (I can’t make this up) titled ‘Drowning Ruth’ by Christina Schwarz. I suspect I won’t finish the latter and am in need of getting back to the former.
On Wednesday, we learned of the death by vehicle of one of the beloved wild horses, Sir Gruff, the second horse death in a month. For me, it is personal. I came here a month after my father’s death in 2016. My father, a former rodeo rider whom I had been estranged from after our parents’ divorce, and I reconnected through the horses late in life. I remember sitting in a chair on the beach celebrating his life and bemoaning his death when a band of horses came to stand before me. The foal nursed from its mother and then the group surrounded this baby to allow him to sleep by the ocean. It was magical and I so looked forward to a return trip to be with the horses. The death of Sir Gruff pales in comparison to the death of the swimmer who was here from Northern Virginia with his family and friends. While his 15-year-old daughter watched from the shore, he got pulled out and apparently a surfer helped get him in and performed CPR until the ambulances came. And they came.
My husband and I had gone out to get birthday cupcakes for two campers in H-loop. We got gas and thought about going out to lunch, but decided to enjoy the gorgeous Sunday afternoon at the beach, before we make our trek back to our home just north of Philadelphia. As we headed back, we pulled over as ambulances were flying past us over the Verrazano Bridge, near where Sir Gruff was killed. I said a prayer. Please God, not another horse. Or please don’t kill another horse on your way to the emergency.
We opted out of lunch, only to come into the campground and see an ambulance leaving with lights and sirens on and one with no lights or sirens. A host of other emergency vehicles filled the J-loop.
As a former lifeguard and water safety instructor (having learned to swim after getting caught in a rip current as a kid in Ocean City, N.J.), I had seen the heavy currents all week and opted to swim bayside in Assateague Island National Park. I also had read the article, “Good Samaritans Partner on Rescuing Two in OC” by Bethany Hooper and knew of the dangers. After the fatality, signs did go up saying “No Swimming,” but honestly people just passed by without noticing to the signage. I stood around dutifully pointing it out. It was on the fence, but not directly facing bathers as they crossed the dune to the beach.
By sunset, search and rescue crew had recovered the body of an 18-year-old male from the surf. Not the sunset memory any of us want to relive.
Regarding the wild horses and now two human lives lost, we were brainstorming about some possible solutions and wanted to share them with you, your readers and your elected officials.
Perhaps some flashing signs on both sides of the bridge to alert motorists to the dangers of horses on the road? A message could rotate about the number of horse vehicular accidents to date during that year. And now I’m thinking that maybe these digital signs could caution visitors visually regarding the dangers of rip currents.
Upon checking in, there really was no verbal education about the hazards, and I suspect few read the warnings in the park handout.
As one who also conducts public education campaigns, I know that you have to keep beating the message in a variety of methods and multiple times — verbal, written, signage, social media and articles in newspapers like The Dispatch.
As a freelance writer for www.chestnuthilllocal.com, a weekly local independent publication in Philadelphia, my first response to all of this was to “do a story,” but that’s not what I was here for. I was here to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary, and enjoy what perhaps will be our last trip here with our older golden retriever, Tucker, and do the grief work.
On a positive note, I met an interesting couple who put up a huge kite display at Assateague Island National Park on Saturday to the delight of many, and watched the Rosario-Iman wedding just opposite the cartoon-like flying kites.
I also felt a sense of optimism after ready about Ocean City officials for forming a task force to address the ‘Disruptive’ Weekend in Ocean City” article, but was saddened to read quotes by Renae Lawlor, who lost her husband, Thomas Lawlor, 57, a year ago, who was a pedestrian during a car show event last year. I’m 56. Life is too short. I applaud Mrs. Lawlor for having the courage to speak up and demand changes.
I am so impressed with the quality coverage, editorials and columns in your publication. We so often hear such bad news about the media, but I also really enjoyed the look back in history and the fabulous Osprey shot on the front cover taken by John Whaley.
I hope to share strength with your staff as they report on the events of this past weekend, with a half dozen or more rescues from this water that keeps me up. Keep up the good work.