Boardwalk Breakdown Everything you ever wanted to know about Ocean City's pedestrian path but didn't get a chance to ask between smorgasbords and T-shirt shopping.

August 10, 1998|By Ken Fuson | Ken Fuson,SUN STAFF

OCEAN CITY -- You've walked on it. You've gobbled a handful of vinegar-soaked Thrasher's french fries on it. You've held hands and hummed the first line of the old Drifters' hit on it.

Oh when the sun comes up and burns the tar up on the roof. . . .

L But how well do you really know the boardwalk at Ocean City?

Do you know what kind of wood you're walking on? Do you know how many trash cans there are -- and how often they are emptied? Have you seen this year's T-shirt styles? Do you remember the second line of the old Drifters' hit?

Do you care? Of course you care; that's why there are 11-mile traffic back-ups to get over the Bay Bridge on Friday night. Let's face it: Ocean City is known for two things -- the ocean and the city. And the city, for most of us, is the boardwalk.

Come along. Walk with us. Before we're through, your shoes will be so hot you'll wish your tired feet were fireproof.

How far will we walk? The boardwalk is 2.6 miles long, 36 blocks in all, from 30 to 40 feet wide. If that's too far, you can take the shuttle -- about 150,000 people do each month -- and that will get you from one end to the other in a half-hour.

What am I walking on? Planks of No.1 dense yellow southern pine. Each plank is 2 inches by 6 inches by 16 feet. The boards were last replaced between 1994 and 1996. They should last another 10 years.

Why are there tiny spaces between the boards? So cigarette butts have a place to die (and rain has a place to go). Also, wood expands and contracts; the spaces keep the boards from buckling.

Is the boardwalk all board? No. From South First Street to North Division Street, about eight blocks, the boardwalk is concrete, which was put in after a storm in the mid-1950s wiped out the structure. Ocean City officials have approved a $3.5 million renovation project to rip out that section of concrete and replace it with boards.

Anything else? City Engineer Terry McGean says the boardwalk will be widened an additional 28 feet to the east, between South First Street and Fourth Street. All of the new section will be concrete. Eighteen feet will be for the shuttle, bicyclists and in-line skaters. Ten feet will be for furniture and light fixtures. One of the project's highlights will be an arch at the entrance to North Division Street (the first thing you see coming into the city from Route 50). The arch will consist of two wooden towers holding a steal truss that says BOARDWALK in big letters and will feature figurines of people enjoying beach life. The work will be done in phases to avoid the vacation rush and should be completed by the spring of 2000.

When does the boardwalk close? It doesn't. You're supposed to stay off the beach from 10 p.m. to daybreak, but "if you want to walk on the boardwalk at four in the morning, you're welcome to it," says John Van Fossen, foreman of the maintenance division for the city. Bicycles and in-line skates are allowed in the morning, usually until 10 a.m.

How old is the Ocean City boardwalk? Ken Jordan, a city engineering associate and unofficial historian, says there is speculation that Ocean City had a portable boardwalk in the 1880s, but he has found no evidence of it. The first structure, about 12 blocks long, was built in 1892 by the Sinepuxent Beach Co., apparently as a promotional tool for its land development business. (Perhaps the owners were inspired by the Atlantic City boardwalk, which was built in the 1870s.) When the company went bankrupt, it was taken over by a Washington, D.C., man named John F. Waggaman, who donated the boardwalk to the city.

If Mr. Waggaman could have secured the monopoly of one boardwalk concession, what should he have chosen? T-shirts. They're everywhere. At least 42 shops and stands sell T-shirts. "The only thing that has really changed the boardwalk is the T-shirt business," says Sue Hurley, assistant manager of the Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum.

What's hot in T-shirt wear this summer? Monica, Monica, Monica! Kenny from South Park, Leonardo from the Titanic, anyone representing the World Wrestling Federation line of fine outerwear. And, of course, the inevitable: "Real Men Don't Need Viagra."

Whew! I'm tired. Can we sit down for a spell? There are 378 wooden benches lining the boardwalk. (Note: All counting was done in the midst of a caloric coma; we could be off by a bench or two.)

Did you count the nails in the boards, too? There are limits to investigative feature writing, you know. Let's put it this way: There are enough boards and nails that the city's public works department sends a crew out twice a year to look for boards that need to be replaced and nails that need to be hammered back down. The work takes a week each time.

Other than benches, what's the most ubiquitous item on the boardwalk? Trash cans -- 166. They are emptied once in the morning, then as many times as needed in the evening. "On the Fourth of July, you do it all night long and you still don't keep up," Van Fossen says.

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