07/03/2013 09:39 am ET Updated Sep 02, 2013

At the Jersey Shore, Darkness Has Given Way to Light


They no longer stare at the buckled boardwalk planks, and the sand dunes piled higher than whatever was left standing after Hurricane Sandy.

They no longer chase after their children -- as many of these Jersey Shore-goers did during their rare winter visits -- trying to keep them away from nail points jutting out from the splintered wood.

They no longer gawk, with their cameras pointing forward, at the hunks of wood and metal debris floating in the water.

They no longer tread lightly at the north end of the Point Pleasant Beach Boardwalk, where the old Jenkinson's beach train used to park, afraid to go anywhere near the beachfront.

Just months ago, they'd face the Point Beach or state police cars sitting there, on the sand-covered streets, with their red lights flashing and the faces of police offers glaring right at them.

In so many other places, like Ocean Grove, Lavallette and Seaside Heights, those cars remain a part of the landscape, as do the fences that carry "Keep Out" signs that stop people well short of the sands.

In those places, those barriers may remain there for a while, becoming fixtures in once family-friendly places, such as like "Funtown Pier" in Seaside Heights, that remain unfixed.

But in Point Beach, the boardwalk, as well as the post-card scenery that draws hundreds of thousands each year, are all back, resurrected from the empty days of November and December, when only the sounds of sand-filled dump trucks filled the lonely night air.

Hurricane Sandy hit this area harder than anything hit it before, leaving behind a pall of darkness for nearly every everyone who lived in the flood-ridden houses at the time, or walked the splintered boardwalk planks and witnessed the destruction right afterward.

Now darkness has given way to light, even as frequent rains have darkened the skies nearly every summer weekend this year. Through those clouds of darkness, hope shines through.

"All the pictures we saw before -- it's all different now," said Kent Young of Kansas City, who went to Jenkinson's with his three children and niece Tuesday.

"They put it back up so fast -- it's ridiculous," he said, happily.

Long gone are those trucks that moved the sand from the street, stacking piles like tiny hilltops, right in the parking lot and well into the night.

Now you hear the tourists, the families and the locals that live, eat, work and visit here year-round now, the same people who made Point Beach much more than the fishing town it was decades back. They're back on Boardwalk, as are the sounds of the creaking wheels of their baby strollers running as smoothly as they did before.

In some spots, the boardwalk may even be maybe better. Many of those buckled boardwalk planks, half-nailed into their pillars, were replaced with something that's smoother and, perhaps, durable enough that it will never splinter again.

Just months ago, on the Point Beach boardwalk, parts of this same scene remained broken, useless and seemingly hopeless. Indeed, as recently as April, Point Beach officials had announced they had not received a dime of Federal Emergency Management Agency money to pay for what they could fix.

Whatever resistance there was, or bureaucratic red tape that stood in the way, quickly disappeared. Pressured by lawmakers -- all of whom know the boardwalk's symbolic as well as its economic importance -- the agency announced it was sending the oceanfront town $2.1 million to help pay for the rebuilding of its Sandy-ravaged boardwalk.

"This federal funding will reimburse the town for its swift work to rebuild the legendary boardwalk, and thanks to that work, people can now return and enjoy its beauty and attractions," said the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who died a month after the funding was announced.

"However, more work remains as many New Jersey and Point Pleasant Beach families are still rebuilding their lives, and we'll keep fighting to make sure they get all they need to recover."

Now, at the rides, where the force of the waves smashed the boardwalk into large and small pieces, the grinding raw motor sound of the rides is as loud as it ever was -- only drowned out by the occasional whistle sounds from the Jenkinson's South train, the one that's been running almost continuously for 25 years.

At the mini-golf course that fronts Risden's, the image of a sandwiched shack swept from its foundation -- with a "GOLF" sign barely hanging on -- became an iconic image of Sandy's destruction. But that's gone, too, replaced by a new shack, and white flags flapping over the bright green, and perhaps newly hemmed turf.

At Martell's Tiki Bar, Sandy swallowed whole the pier that rode over the ocean and waves below. A glance through the gates that, following Sandy, blocked people from entering was like looking at a cliff, with only water on the other side.

The pier is now back, as is the live music that blares like it's ready to blow a hole through a wall, as well as the drinking and revelry that always accompany it.

In the snackbars, restaurants and in the bars, the sounds of babies crying, music playing and kids laughing were the same as they ever were, just like the sight of small waves landing sofetly on the beach, keeping a safe, pleasant and healthy distance from what was once destroyed.

"We really surprised," said Rob Zdziera of Pennsylvania, who ate ice cream near the mini-golf course with his two grandchildren and his wife, Cheryl. "This is always nice to see."

The story originally appeared on Point Pleasant Patch.