By Donald Wittkowski
It was about 1:15 p.m. Sunday, and time was slipping away on the Fourth of July weekend getaway at the shore for Ed Gillen and his family.
Gillen was wondering whether he should slip out of Sea Isle City early in the afternoon to head back home to Cherry Hill or whether to squeeze out a few more precious hours of beach time before the holiday weekend was completely over.
Then he heard that an exodus of bumper-to-bumper traffic was heading northbound on the Garden State Parkway early Sunday afternoon as tens of thousands of visitors were wrapping up their holiday at the shore for the trip home.
“That’s it, we’re leaving later tonight. We’re definitely staying here,” Gillen said, while deciding to stay on the beach a while longer instead of fighting traffic.
Gillen’s wife, Deanne, and daughters Gracie, 5, and Emme, 4, certainly didn’t seem to mind spending more time in Sea Isle on Sunday. Their holiday weekend was a whirlwind of beach time, playing games at an arcade and savoring their ice cream cones.
“We went to the arcade. And I had an ice cream,” pint-sized Gracie exclaimed, her lips colored a bright ruby red from eating an ice pop.
The Gillen family, joined by Shaun McPhillips and his 3-year-old daughter, Ella, had plenty of company on Sea Isle’s beaches during a blockbuster holiday weekend. More than 60,000 visitors were in town for the holiday, a huge jump over Sea Isle’s year-round population of about 2,000 residents.
“We anticipate there will be well over 60,000 people on the island,” Sea Isle spokeswoman Katherine Custer said.
Brian and Kathy Maguire, Sea Isle residents who live on West Jersey Avenue, said this Fourth of July weekend seemed as busy as ever.
“We live in the center of town. We think this was the most crowded it has been in some time,” Kathy Maguire said.
“Sea Isle is a popular town,” Brian Maguire added.
Some of the visitors were from Canada. Alain and Catherine Leclair, of Quebec, were relaxing on the beach with their daughter, Marie, and sons Nicolas and Manoah.
The Leclair family is on vacation at the shore until next Saturday. On Sunday, they amused themselves by building a big sand castle complete with a moat.
“It’s a bit warmer here,” Alain Leclair said, comparing the Jersey Shore’s 80-degree temperatures with the weather in Canada. “It’s very nice. We’ve been here many times.”
While many people chose to take a dip in the surf and grab a coveted spot on the bustling beaches, others preferred spending the waning hours of the holiday weekend in more tranquil parts of Sea Isle, including the back bays.
Nicole Francesco, of Ventnor, was casting a fishing line off a dock at Sea Isle’s municipal marina, overlooking the picturesque bayfront. She patiently waited to catch a fish.
“Not today,” she said of her lack of luck in catching anything. “I got a couple of bites, but they keep taking my minnows. So something’s out there.”
In addition to the fishing, the highlight of Francesco’s holiday weekend was the time she spent with her family in Sea Isle, a place that remains special to her.
“I have been coming to Sea Isle since I was a tiny one,” she said. “Sea Isle has definitely always been a part of it.”
Brothers Mike and Matt Moley had a large swath of the back bay virtually to themselves Sunday afternoon while they were paddling around in kayaks next to the municipal marina at the end of 42nd Place.
“It’s awesome,” Mike Moley said of the serenity of the bay.
Mike Moley lives in Phoenixville, Pa., while Matt resides in Atlanta. Now in their early 30s, they have been vacationing in Sea Isle with their parents, Michael and Michelle Moley, since they were children.
This year, the Moley family is renting a vacation home on 43rd Street. As an extra perk, the home had the kayaks that Mike and Matt took out on the water on Sunday.
“I love it. I just love being on the water,” Matt Moley said. “This is my first time back to Sea Isle in a few years. It’s a great place to spend the holiday week.”