Wildlife Drive getting $1.25 million for repairs and cleanup

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Forsythe Forsythe

GALLOWAY – The Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge will receive $1.25 million from the federal government to repair a storm-damaged roadway.

More than $4.75 million in federal aid will help repair and rebuild roads in two New Jersey national parks that sustained significant damage during Hurricane Sandy, U.S. Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez announced Monday, Feb. 11.

The aid, provided through the U.S. Department of Transportation's Emergency Relief and Federally Owned Roads Program, will fund repairs at Forsythe and the Gateway National Recreation Area in Sandy Hook.

Forsythe Wildlife Refuge was closed in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy as tidal surges crested over Wildlife Drive, causing significant damage to the road infrastructure.

“That money is specifically for cleaning up and repairing the Wildlife Drive,” Refuge Manager Virginia Rettig told The Current Tuesday, Feb. 19. “It doesn’t account for debris and refuse. It’ll take months to clear that.”

The Wildlife Drive project started about a month ago – Jan. 14.

“We’re at about 50 percent done on that,” Rettig said.

Weather has been and threatens to be a major factor, she said.

“The weather slows us down,” Rettig said. “It hinders our ability to get supplies in. And the forecast isn’t too good right now.”

But progress is being made.

“Overall, things have been going smoothly,” Rettig said.

More than 100 volunteers have continued doing their regular work around the refuge, she said. The refuge was closed for less than two weeks after Hurricane Sandy hit Oct. 29.

“We’re not using volunteers generally for the Wildlife Drive cleanup,” Rettig said. “It’s too dangerous. We leave that to the professionals.”

She attributed the high level of up-time to the volunteers.

“We’re open year-round, seven days a week,” Rettig said. “That’s thanks to our volunteers, and we’re very grateful for that.”

While Wildlife Drive is closed, adjacent hiking trails are open 9 a.m.-4 p.m. daily, including the Songbird Trail, Akers Woodland Trail, Leeds Eco-Trail and foot access to GullPondTower. Scott's Landing Boat Launch is open. Barnegat Observation Platform is also open.

The VisitorInformationCenter is open 10 a.m.-3 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m.-4 p.m. weekends.

According to Lautenberg's office, Sandy Hook will receive $3.53 million from the National Park Service Project to repair its damaged roadways.

Sandy Hook, a peninsula surrounded on either site by the Atlantic Ocean and the RaritanBay, sustained significant damage. A popular tourist destination, officials have said they are unsure if the park will be ready to open this upcoming beach season.

The funding is part of a recently adopted Hurricane Sandy Relief Act. The $60.2 billion package was approved by Congress in January and signed into law by President Barack Obama shortly after. 

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