Organizers of the popular LBI Fly International Kite Festival have requested access to Ship Bottom beaches beginning at 11th Street, running southward away from the Causeway Circle area. They had previously asked for the event to be held on the oceanfront beaches between 14th and 24th streets, according to Kathy Wells, borough clerk.
Vehicular access, however, is at 11th Street, she said during the March 26 caucus meeting of the borough council where the kite festival was the only item on the agenda.
The move would mark the second consecutive year beach access for the kite festival in the borough has changed. Opening day events for the 2018 festival included a kite flying display and demo on the oceanfront beaches between Ninth and 11th streets. The starting point in 2017 was on beaches near the entrance to the Island where motorists traveling eastward could see the high-flying kites from the Causeway approach and along Ninth Street to the circle.
Last year’s beach access switch was done with the intention of helping alleviate traffic flow and other safety concerns.
“It’s become so successful so fast,” Mayor William Huelsenbeck has said of the event, which started as a way to highlight colorful artist-design kites and highlight sport kiting. It’s quickly become the largest kite festival in North America.
The mayor said meetings to discuss logistics and other items of concern will be held before the event.
Earlier this year, Dan Malay, an officer with the LBI Chamber of Commerce, which hosts the event, appeared before the Ship Bottom council with the news that some of the festival’s events would be moved to Long Beach Township. The decision, according to Malay at the time, was due to traffic concerns and for monetary reasons. He said changing venues opens the event to more sponsorship from local businesses.
The discussion began with a phone call he received following last year’s event from Ship Bottom Police Chief Paul Sharkey, focusing on significant safety concerns due to the popular event. They were the same concerns raised in January 2018 by borough Councilman Tom Tallon, chairman of the public safety committee, following the 2017 event.
There was a more concerted effort last year for festival-goers to use shuttle buses available on Saturday and Sunday from a number of locations in the borough and Surf City, including the LBI Grade School and the Ethel Jacobsen School.
The event is held Columbus Day weekend, and makes the most of the shoulder season, the time between peak summer and the off-season. However, on Sunday, it coincides with the LBI 18-Mile Run, an annual event on LBI since 1972. The race begins in Holgate and ends in Barnegat Light with some lane closures on most of Long Beach Boulevard, the Island’s main thoroughfare.
Huelsenbeck believes keeping the traffic signals on for the event would have eased some of the traffic safety concerns and helped alleviate traffic snarls throughout the borough. Traffic signals along Long Beach Boulevard, a county road, are turned off the day after Chowderfest, an annual event that occurs the week before the kite festival.
— Gina G. Scala