AVALON – The Avalon Environmental Commission addressed concerns over the proposed Dune and Beach Trail Project’s use of signage during council’s work session on Sept. 25. The original concept submitted to the county’s Open Space Review Board called for 14 informational signs.
Martha Wright, of Avalon, objected the proposal’s inclusion of signage amongst the dunes. “Such signs do nothing to enhance this national historic resource, but instead serve as an unnatural visual intrusion to the natural beauty of the setting,” Wright said as she held a 2x3 foot piece of poster board above her head. “To state that seven signs on a 1,100 foot path and seven more signs on a 1,300 foot path will not adversely impact the environment is ludicrous.”
Wright was also concerned with the influx of people to the borough, citing families, naturalists, and educators. “Do you not realize that the presence of more people is precisely what will spoil the quiet natural beauty of these trails?” Wright asked.
As an alternative to physical signage, Wright suggested the commission utilize an Avalon Dune and Trail App for smart phones and tablets.
Donna Rothman, a member of the Avalon Environmental Commission, assured council that every avenue had been explored concerning signs and the use of technology. “Phase one would be the signs, phase two would be the apps,” Rothman said. She added that presenting everything at once could be “too much, too soon.”
Councilwoman Nancy Hudanich recalled signs Avalon utilized along the boardwalk nearly 30 years ago. She was supportive of both physical signage and tech-savvy alternatives, but did express concern over excluding some visitors. “The last thing we want to do is create the haves and the have-nots with the digital divide, and in essence, you would with pure technology,” Hudanich said.
Rothman sought advice from the National Park Service when selecting the signs, which would need to withstand the coast’s weather conditions. The proposed dimensions and number of signs, Rothman explained, we’re only acting as a guide. “The reality is, is we will only use whatever size sign we need to provide the educational material on it,” she continued. “It’s just that we needed an outline to follow in terms of the signs, because we really don’t know until we’re absolutely finished with all the content.”
According to Dr. Brian Reynolds, chairman of the Avalon Environmental Commission, that content is the key to the project. “The important thing about learning something is seeing it firsthand,” Reynolds said. “What we are doing here is trying to educate the public. There are an awful lot of people, children and older people, who don’t know the importance of the dunes, who don’t know what they are capable of doing.”
Joe Lomax, of Lomax Consulting, acknowledged the diverse composition of plants and animals that reside in the high dunes. “It is one of the finest outdoor laboratories that there is along the coast of New Jersey,” Lomax said. He explained that the format for the educational experience offered by the Dune and Beach Trail had two components. The first aspect explains what Avalon has – the beach, the dunes, the wildlife, and the endangered species; while the second component represents the area’s value in the protection of the community at large.
Addressing Wright’s concerns about unwanted visitors to the borough, Rothman also told council that the average age of an eco-tourist is 52. “They don’t travel around in pods,” she said. “They usually come as a twosome and they are a really desirable audience to come into Avalon.”
Rothman said the commission agreed to reduce the number of signs from 14 to ten. However, she feared the decrease would negatively impact the commission’s educational objectives. The new proposal calls for two directional signs – one on 44th Street, the other on 48th Street – and four sets of signs that lead from the maritime forest to the water.
According to Rothman, the project already has support from a number of local organizations, including the Avalon Garden Club, the Avalon Civic Club, Sturdy Savings Bank, and Long and Foster Real Estate.
Ultimately the commission said they would rely on visitor feedback and move forward accordingly. So should the need for additional signs arise, they would oblige. The Open Space Review Board will make a decision regarding funding next month.