by Shannon Miller |

Off-roaders celebrated the Fourth of July and the re-opening of Gilgo Beach State Park last week, creating a star-spangled shoreline of 4 x 4 vehicles and beachgoers sporting red, white and blue.

This was the first time in three years revelers were able to access this outer beach with permitted vehicles as the area had been shut down to off-roaders due to shore erosion.

As previously reported, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently completed a $26.2 million- restoration project, which added approximately 1.8 million cubic yards of sand from the Fire Island Inlet to Gilgo Beach allowing the beach to open this summer.

Since opening, people have flocked to the South Shore beach—especially during America’s birthday— to air down their tires and enjoy the mile-long stretch of newly dredged sand (scroll down to see photos.)

the fishing

The re-opening was predicted to clear congestion at other popular surfcasting areas along the south shore, such as Sore Thumb and Democrat Point, said David Kolopsky, a hobbyist fisherman from Melville.

“The other spots have too many issues,” said Kolopsky last week. “Democrat has the rules for the piping plovers, and Sore Thumb is slowly wasting away. What’s left of it will definitely be gone by the end of this summer. There’s just too much traffic over there.”

Gilgo wasn’t lacking in recreational beachgoers, especially on the weekends. In addition to Kolopsky, there plenty of fishermen tossing their bait into the waters, as well as many off-roaders visiting for a day of Kan-Jam, cornhole tossing, and swimming.

“Before we know it, Gilgo will be the next weekend hot spot for anyone with a truck or SUV,” said Kolopsky.

Many seasoned fishermen worry about competition with recreational visitors over waterfront space. The high turnout of leisure hobbyists during the week of Independence Day justified their concerns.

Frustrating many fishermen was a miniature remote-control boat, weaving in and out of swimmers and cast lines. As it jumped waves it caught the attention of Tony and Mandy Papa from Holbrook, who were spending the day at the beach with their three sons Andrew, Aidan and Austin.

When the boat flipped and became stranded at sea, Mandy encouraged Andrew and Aidan, who Austin said were complaining of boredom at the time, to put their swimming skills to the test and help the man save his boat.

The two boys swam to the rescue, battling a quickly turning tide and rip current. “At first, we lost it [the boat]. Then a big wave came, and we jumped it, and then we saw it [the boat] again, and we both just swam to it,” said Aidan.

The boys chased the boat around as waves continued to push the boat further out. Tony, who was fishing at the time, jumped in to help his boys, and all three made it back to shore with the man’s boat.

Although the incident may have been a bother to some, others like the Papa family found it to be exciting. “How do you prevent people from practicing their hobby or having fun— you can’t. All you can do is hope others respect your space and the beach,” said Kolopsky, who witnessed the incident while fishing a few spots down.

fun in the sun

But the off-road beach has so much more to offer than just fishing. Dolphins were spotted a few hundred feet offshore, causing many to jump from their beach chairs to get a picture. Kites and drones were flown in the skies above, and the cold ocean was packed with boogie boarders and swimmers in search of relief from the scorching sun.

On busy weekends and holidays such as the Fourth of July, fishermen share the coastline with vacationers and locals visiting the beach in pop-up campers and RVs. Families and friends get together for a night of roughing it, followed by a fun day at the beach.

The Moder family of Dix Hills arrived in the afternoon last Wednesday and camped overnight to avoid the rush of beachgoers expected to arrive Thursday morning.

“Every summer we get the permit, and then we try to meet up with friends on the weekends,” Lauren Moder said. “We used to go to Sore Thumb, but there was never any space. We’re glad Gilgo is open again.”

However, not all who go to Gilgo plan their trip ahead of time.

Raashida Spann of Baldwin and Shanelle Willins of Queens arrived at the 4 x 4 beach by accident. Their intentions were to go fishing with their friend at Jones Beach’s West End Boat Basin, but it didn’t go as planned.

“We never made it,” Spann said, “so we had to drive the truck in the sand.” This was their first-time off-roading, and they spent their afternoon simply relaxing.

As the days progressed, many on the beach became friends with their neighbors parked to their left and right. Experienced 4 x 4 drivers volunteered their trucks to pull out vehicles stuck in the sand; and each friendly moment created a beach scene thriving with togetherness during a holiday that celebrates freedom.

Scroll down to see photos.