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New London - They come by car, by bike and on foot, often with a chair in one hand and a cooler in the other. They lay blankets out on the hot sand, cover themselves with a thin layer of sunscreen and bob in the surf as waves crash on the shore.
On Thursday, about 500 eager beachgoers flocked to Ocean Beach Park to salvage at least one day of sun and sand before Hurricane Arthur arrived to rain on the area's Fourth of July parades.
"My older brother has the day off so he wanted to bring his son, my nephew, to the beach because it's supposed to be a nice day," Tiraa Edwards, 22, of Ledyard, said. "The sun's not out too much, but it's humid and nice enough to be on the beach."
While some at the beach Thursday could be described as regulars, for at least three people it was an entirely new experience.
"I've always lived in the middle of the country, so I've never seen a beach before," said Debbie Borrero, 42, of Miamisburg, Ohio. "I've always wanted to go to a beach, and we can't get into our hotel until 3 p.m., so I said, 'Let's find the beach!'"
Borrero's husband, Victor, said he used to live near the beach at Coney Island and is no stranger to the shore. The Borreros brought their 6-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter with them Thursday so they could experience the sand and surf, too.
"They've been watching 'Finding Nemo' a lot lately, so they're both excited to get in the ocean," Victor Borrero, 38, said.
Ocean Beach Park features a half-mile long boardwalk, water slides, amusement rides, video arcade, 18-hole miniature golf course, a kid's spray park, playground and an Olympic-size swimming pool, not to mention its white sand and the ocean itself.
"This is a very light day for us," David Sugrue, manager of Ocean Beach Park, said Thursday. "But it is the day before the big day and the forecast wasn't looking great for today initially."
Among those who visited Ocean Beach on Thursday was Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who strode casually along the boardwalk in khaki shorts, a white polo shirt and loafers.
"This is a beautiful beach. On the July Fourth weekend it could attract 12,000 people. It's a popular spot," Malloy said. "I've seen it a lot in the off-season, so I wanted to experience the boardwalk today."
Malloy toured the beach with Sugrue, State Rep. Betsy Ritter, D-Waterford, and City Councilor Michael J. Tranchida before having a hot dog and onion ring lunch on the boardwalk.
From Stonington to Greenwich, Connecticut has approximately 332 miles of shoreline either in direct contact with Long Island Sound or in contact with a bay, harbor or cove, according to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
Along that stretch of 332 miles are 73 public beaches - an average of one beach every 4.5 miles.
Rocky Neck State Park in Niantic attracts an average of 600,000 guests each year.
"The weather looks like it could put a little damper on the start of the weekend, but when it clears up we're expecting big crowds," said DEEP spokesman Dennis Schain Thursday afternoon. "People are excited we're in the heart of the summer season, so we've staffed up heavily at all state parks in anticipation of that."
Schain said DEEP expects state park parking lots to fill up quickly during the holiday weekend and recommended visitors follow @CTDEPoutdoorrec on Twitter to get real-time parking updates. But the swimming area at Rocky Neck could be smaller than normal this weekend; the easternmost part of the beach has been closed after water quality tests this week found elevated levels of bacteria there.
"The issue is where (a brook) comes out into the Sound on the eastern portion of the beach carrying water from a marsh," Schain said. "Because of the presence of geese and other wildlife, there is some feces that can get into that water and get carried, causing higher bacteria levels."
He said the rest of the swimming area has been tested and is not affected by the higher levels of bacteria.
And though the beaches may get crowded on holiday weekends or during heat waves, DEEP estimates that Long Island Sound holds about 8 trillion gallons of water, a more-than-ample amount for swimming and boating.