Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start of summer. But after a winter and spring of record-breaking storms, some coastal communities are still scrambling to get ready for the season.
Out on the tip of Cape Ann, the town of Rockport is no exception.
“When the last storm hit we were all pretty overwhelmed, and nervous,” Sarah Wilkinson, the chairwoman of the board of selectmen, said. She added that the town's Department of Public Works has been working around the clock to get the beaches summer ready. “I think it's because of them that we're able to be open for the season."
The string of Nor'easters in March brought intense waves and high tides. Along Front Beach in Rockport, granite walkways were pulled down, sand was washed away, and debris was everywhere.
“It's been months now of work to get these beaches back in order,” says Rich Souza with the DPW. “We'll be open for Memorial Day Weekend, and you know, we're very happy. It set us back for our routine stuff, but we're in a good place.”
Up and down the coast, from the North Shore to the South Shore, communities are still dealing with the repercussions of late season storms.
Some have more work to do than others.
Just down the road from Rockport in Gloucester, the storm in early January flooded the high school parking lot where many residents had been told to park for the storm. Cars were wrecked, and the athletic fields were flooded.
And that was just the first big storm this season.
Bad weather dogged the region all spring, downing trees, flooding streets, homes and public spaces.
The footbridge at Good Harbor Beach wasn't the first priority.
“I would have thought it was gonna be fixed by Memorial Day,” Bobby Provost said. He’s a life-long resident of Gloucester, and for most of his life, he's been using the footbridge at Good Harbor. “But it got really ravaged. I didn't think that it got really ripped apart as bad as it did until I went there on the fifth of May.”
The footbridge was severely damaged in one of the March Nor'easters and still hasn't been fixed.
"It'll be such a deterrence to beach traffic, and for the people who love to come to Good Harbor and the people that live on that half.. they'll never ever be able to get there. They're gonna have to walk all the way around," he said.
Michael Hale, the director of the DPW in Gloucester, knows it's a big deal to residents that this isn't done yet.
“We were about six weeks behind going into the last few weeks,” he said. “We're getting caught up right now. Unfortunately, Memorial Day's Monday.”
Next week, they plan to start work on a new, temporary footbridge that they hope to finish by the middle of June. Plans for a new, more sustainable footbridge are underway for the fall, with a projected cost of $500,000. The new bridge will be built to withstand weather like that of this past winter.
"Any community that's not thinking and preparing for climate change right now — they have their head in the sand," Hale said. "There's no question about that. We're seeing it. It's real, and living in a coastal community like Gloucester... the rise in sea level is something that we see frequently. The astronomically high tides, the intensity is greater. The storms are greater, and the damage consequently is greater. And it's something we need to be prepared for."
Cities and towns are working with the State on making the coast more resilient, using nature-based solutions like adding dunes and beach grass to fortify the shore against erosion and rising tides. But it's the federal government that runs the most popular beaches in Massachusetts.
On the Cape, the National Seashore expects more than four million visitors this summer. But not all of its beaches will be open.
"Marconi beach is still closed," said Brian Carlstrom, the superintendent of the park."The steps were washed out from severe Nor'easters back in March, and were damaged in January, so they're no longer serviceable."
He hopes to have new steps in place in time for the 4th of July.
At Nauset Beach, he said, "There had been stairs there for as long as the seashore has been in place. we removed those, knowing we're not going to be able to sustain rebuilding those as often as they're washing out."
Now there's a trail that visitors can walk down to access the beach. The parking lot is also being moved back because of severe erosion. New buildings for concessions and bathrooms have been constructed so that they can be moved back as tides get higher.
All along the coast, communities are figuring out how to adapt to a changing shoreline. And that work is continuing — even as the summer kicks off.