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Ocean Beach Park to shine for its 75th birthday

New London — A crew of volunteers basked in the sunshine and ignored the biting wind Saturday as they spruced up Ocean Beach Park, which opens Memorial Day Weekend for its 75th season.

"Ocean Beach gets by with a lot of help from our friends," said General Manager David Sugrue. "It's amazing what they're accomplishing."

The summer of 2015 is shaping up at the park, which is debuting a newly renovated Sandbar Cafe and adding a new section to its nature trail. Park crew members have fired up the sand sifter and pool vacuum, Sugrue said, and plans are underway for a birthday bash on July 3. As always, the beach will host cruise nights, movies nights, fireworks and special events.

Save Ocean Beach, a volunteer organization that helped rescue the city-owned public beach from being sold to a private owner in the 1990s, continues to minister to the beachfront park by raising funds, adding amenities and holding semi-annual cleanup days like Saturday's event.

With its half-mile boardwalk, wide sandy beach, nature trail and amusements, the park is, as New London High School Navy Junior ROTC volunteer Michael Commander said, "a good place to come down and make a memory."

Supervised by Save Ocean Beach executive board member Marie Gravell, the ROTC members raked and bagged leaves from the miniature golf course and removed sand from walkways.

Commander, the petty officer in charge, had stripped down to his green and gold T-shirt by late morning. A lifelong resident of the city, he said he enjoys helping out at the beach and bonding with his fellow ROTC members.

"One does the raking, the other does the bagging," he said. "It's a great way to get closer."

Mid-boardwalk, members Janis Cabral and Cindy Collins raked debris away from plantings, glad to see they had survived the brutal winter. Like most of the volunteers, the women began their love affair with the beach early.

"When I was a kid, we lived up in Hampton and our parents would put us in the car and we'd sing all the way down and make sandcastles," said Collins, now a New London resident. "When we moved closer, it was great to be nearby."

Further down the boardwalk, Save Ocean Beach Chairman Tom Quintin and a group of cadets from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy were sanding and grinding the playscape, which is being touched up after 13 years of hard fun. Quintin said the volunteer organization received a $26,500 grant to extend its nature trail from the area known as Gateway Garden to the Highland Avenue bridge. Volunteers have removed the invasive vegetation and marked the trail, and the contractor dug it out on Friday, he said.

"It's supposed to be done by opening day," Quintin said.

Kerry Morth, who serves as Save Ocean Beach's secretary, said keeping the beach open to the public has been the key motivation for the group, which works alongside other organizations, such as New London Beautification, to help beach managers, constrained by their budget and short earning season, improve and maintain the park.

Also new this year is a collaboration with New England Science & Sailing, which is offering a summer program for children age 7 to 10 at the beach called Alewife Explorers, along with guided kayak tours for all ages. The Stonington-based organization already partners with New London schools to provide educational and recreational programs involving the ocean and is now opening its programs to the public.

For Freddy Hidalgo, a sophomore ROTC petty officer who attends the Science & Technology Magnet School, the cleanup day at the beach was a great way to work on the 60 volunteer hours required of all magnet school students.

"It's nice out here, relaxing, and we're trying to help out the community," Hidalgo said.



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