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Surf’s up, attendance up at Orchard Beach

The sun came out, and so did the swimmers.

This year’s unusually large number of hot, sunny days brought an unusually large number of swimmers to Orchard Beach.

According to figures provided by the City Parks Department, by the end of July nearly one million beach-goers came to bask in the sun and swim in the cool waters. The total attendance for the 2009 season was 1,081,565.

“Yes, we are having a great year,” said Bronx Parks Department Commissioner Hector Aponte. “This hot weather is getting people out there, and with the economy being what it is, people are not traveling as far or as much as they used to.”

By late July 2009, 679,914 people had been to Orchard beach. That number increased by more than 30 percent to 972,475 for July 2010. Although the parks department does not have a projected final number for the end of the 2010 season, officials expect high attendance to continue throughout the last month of the season.

According to parks officials, the high attendance trend is not specific to Orchard Beach. At beaches across the city, attendance has almost doubled since last year.

The season began in May and will continue through Labor Day. The parks department is offering the usual daily activities and games for beach-goers. But according to Aponte, it is the weather that has made all the difference this year.

“We have basketball tournaments and library events and folks that play music on Sundays,” he said. “It’s pretty much the same as what we did last year, but the weather and economy are keeping people close by.”

According to Aponte, last year’s rainy weather not only hurt attendance, but also added to environmental problems that led the beach to get listed as the second dirtiest beach in the city, behind Manhattan Beach in Brooklyn. The report, entitled “Testing the Waters,” surveyed 30 costal states and was released by the National Defense Council in late July 2010.

“It’s the tide coming in and out that brings the pollution here. The quality is constantly being tested by the Department of Health and they make the opinions of whether the beach should be opened or closed,” he said,

He expects the ongoing cleanup of a sewage and waste-water treatment plant in Hunts Point to also help alleviate the problem of pollutants and run-off getting into the waters near the beach.

Officials are also expecting attendance at the beach to improve after Parks and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reshape the roughly 1-mile long shore line. The more than $12 million project, which will begin at the end of the 2010 beach season and be completed before the 2011 season, will include restoring the rock face on the south end of the beach to cut down on erosion.

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