Travelers kick off summer beach season on Memorial Day holiday weekend

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Kristin Thorne reporting from the beach (WABC)

More than 37 million Americans are expected to travel at least 50 miles from home this Memorial Day weekend, as the summer season officially gets underway after a brutal winter.

The holiday is expected to quite busy, as travel is expected to increase by 5 percent from 2014, according to AAA. It's the highest travel volume for the holiday in a decade.

The good news is that most drivers should expect to pay the lowest Memorial Day gas prices in at least five years, though that number jumped 2 cents for drivers in New Jersey Friday morning. According to AAA, the national average for a gallon of gas is $2.66, but since April, gas prices in the Garden State have risen by 37 cents per gallon.

But that won't stop those looking to get away, as AAA predicts that more than 950,000 New Jersey residents will hit the road, skies, rails or water this weekend, a 4.6 percent increase from 2014.

More than 88 percent of holiday travelers will drive to their destinations, a 5 percent increase from 2014, according to AAA.

On Coney Island, the city kicked has already kicked off its beach season.

"We expect to see more than 10 million visitors here in Coney Island," New York City Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver said.

There is also big news for the pier at Coney Island.

"Beachgoers can enjoy the beautiful Steeplechase Pier," Silver said. "Which was redesigned in 2013 after the extensive damage from Hurricane Sandy and which offers breathtaking views."

This weekend, lifeguards will be on duty at your favorite beaches daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

In Rockaway Beach, the first new section of the boardwalk that was all but destroyed by Superstrom Sandy was officially opened Friday.

"This is a great day for the city," Mayor Bill de Blasio said. "This is a great day for the Rockaways."

Residents already enjoying the new and more resilient replacement.

"The people need some kind of entertainment and recreation," area resident Patricia Bethea said. "A place to go and enjoy yourself, as long as it's safe now."

"It's not just about making sure people had access to this boardwalk and the beach and something that is so important to their lives, but making sure it will with stand anything Mother Nature threw at us," de Blasio said.

Three and half miles of the boardwalk are being opened this summer, with the remaining two miles opening in 2016. City officials say the entire rebuilding will be completed by 2017, with the mayor promising that any funds left over after completion will stay in the Rockaways.

Beachgoers in New Jersey are thrilled for the getaway, too. It's shore season, and in Belmar, Mayor Matt Doherty says his town is ready.

"Things are looking great," he said "We have good public works employees who put the beachfront together, get the boardwalk ready. So we're ready for middle-class families to come down."

Visitors are the lifeblood of the shore shops, and that loyalty is the only reason Jimmy's Pizza Place not only survived Superstorm Sandy, but is now thriving..

"We came back tenfold," owner Jimmy Kumaris said. "They were here supporting us. All I can say is thank you."

In fact, Kumaris is expanding this year, with more outdoor dining, a raw bar and fresh lemonade.

"The returning customer is 60 percent of my business," he said. "I don't even know how to thank everyone for coming back."

So while it's time to kick off another summer season, it's also important to remember why there's a three-day weekend.

Also, about 400,000 spectators will flock to Republic Airport and Jones Beach this weekend for the Annual Bethpage Air Show. The main attraction this year is the Air Force Thunderbirds. They are back at the show for the first time in four years.

The air show is an institution for Long Island and big business in Nassau County with tons of tourists from out of town.

Veteran Owen Fuchs, of Bayside, urges folks not to forget what the holiday is about -- our military and those who have served.

It was 50 years ago that he returned home from fighting in Vietnam.

"It's a real heart-wrenching weekend," he said. "My heart goes out to all the boys who are buried in Pinelawn Cemetery, and God Bless all these kids who are over in these wars now. And God keep them safe, and let them do the right thing and come home in one piece."

Related Topics:
hobbiesbeachesboardwalksummersummer funNew York CityConey Island
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