Four months after Hurricane Ian, Lowdermilk Beach is ready to reopen.
There is still work that needs to be done—sand and dunes were washed away, benches were scattered, concession stands were damaged—but it’s ready.
A few people showed up on Tuesday hoping to enjoy the beach but were met with caution tape and barricades.
Naples Parks and Recreation Director Chad Merritt said he is looking at the rebuilding process as an opportunity.
“When we got here we had probably three or four feet of sand from the beach,” Merritt said. “We had a lot of debris. It destroyed the concession pretty bad.”
Hurricane Ian left a lot of work to be done: Repairing the concession stand, removing sand and mud, and rounding up the scattered picnic tables. It is work that Merritt is familiar with; before taking the job, he was up in North Carolina dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Florence.
“Well, it’s not really that thing you want to deal with, but you know what happens when you’re in these coastal communities,” Merritt said.
Merritt has learned to see the silver lining through the devastation.
“We have the opportunity to come in and make some changes that perhaps we wanted to make before,” Merritt said. “You know, that’s always trying to make them stronger and better is what you try to do, and these events, actually, they point that out. They show you what perhaps your weaknesses are and what it is you can improve in, and I think we have really tried to hone in on that.”
The hope is the beach will be ready for sunbathers by Friday.
But people should not expect to find it just like it was before, according to Merritt. Most of the amenities other than bathrooms won’t be available.
It was Carolyn DeFreitas’ first time back on the beach since Ian, and she can’t help but think about the devastation.
“I can’t even explain it; a lot of my friends lost everything,” DeFreitas said.
It was fabulous to be back, she said.
“That’s why we moved. We all moved from Boston to live here,” DeFreitas said.
“This is not going to look like Lowdermilk before the storm. We’re going to have to do some major landscaping. We’ve got to come in and replant grass,” Merritt said. “You’re not gonna have every amenity, but we did want to provide the parking, we wanted to provide the beach access, and that was our main goal and trying to do that safely.”