Maria Meoneic lives in Danbury, but she doesn’t let that keep her from sitting on her favorite beach. For the past decade, Meoneic has been making the 45-minute drive from Danbury to Bridgeport’s Seaside Park on weekends, afternoons and days off from work.
On a recent Friday, she and her friend Mirna Loy Pinto sat under a pair of umbrellas at the water’s edge.
“I love this beach,” she said.
Meoneic and Pinto aren’t alone. Seaside Park, which opened for the summer season on Memorial Day weekend, gets a lot of traffic from both city residents and residents of other communities.
Last year, according to Lee Nastu, recreation coordinator for Bridgeport’s Parks and Recreation Department, the city issued 22,194 park stickers to Bridgeport residents and 169 stickers to nonresidents such as Meoneic. Over the course of last summer the city also sold 3,400 Seaside Park day passes to state residents and 1,197 day passes to out-of-staters.
As of June 15, the city has sold 5,452 resident park stickers and 49 nonresident stickers at Seaside Park; 3,716 of those resident stickers and 28 of the nonresident stickers were purchased when the park opened for Memorial Day weekend.
An additional 1,924 resident stickers and six nonresident park stickers – which can be used to gain entrance to Seaside and all of the city’s parks — have been sold at Beardsley Park.
Many of the parks’ most regular users don’t need stickers, such Bridgeport resident Shelley Strohm, who walks to the beach daily.
A regular at Seaside Park, Strohm visits every day for a very specific reason: She is one of thousands of volunteers on the East Coast who looks for horseshoe crabs tagged by various research projects.
“You really only find one a season,” she said. Last year, Strohm found one crab that had been tagged in New Haven and made its way to Bridgeport.
When she finds a tagged animal, Strohm reports it to the Maryland Fishery Resources Office, which has been coordinating a tagging program for East Coast horseshoe crabs since 1999.
Strohm has a message for all those who might encounter horseshoe crabs during the mating season.
“People,” she said, “please do not hurt them.”
She added that the animals are harmless, and said they are being tracked by the government because the horseshoe crab population is declining.
Strohm has been coming to Seaside Park since she moved to Bridgeport three years ago. Like other residents, her walks at Seaside are interrupted for a few days every summer when the Gathering of The Vibes music event arrives in the park.
“The money they get (from Gathering of the Vibes), they should use it for the park,” she said.
While the Gathering of the Vibes may be the largest event to take place in Seaside Park this summer, the park is the site of many events, large and small.
One such small event took place on Friday, June 10. The seventh Park City Noise event, a concert featuring sets by several avant-garde bands from Connecticut, Rhode Island and New York, drew a handful of experimental music fans to Seaside Park.
“The concept is to provide a venue for esoteric, avant-garde art in Bridgeport,” said Keith Rodgerson, assistant special projects manager for the city’s Office of Economic Development.
This is the first time that Rodgerson, who once organized as many as 30 events a year in downtown Bridgeport, has brought Park City Noise to the beach.
“I like to find public spaces that fit the event,” said Rodgerson, who performed himself, crawling out of the waves in a wetsuit, while an electronic device produced sound based on his movements.
The park is home to more mainstream events as well. The annual Puerto Rican Day parade concludes with festivities and music at Seaside Park on Sunday, July 10. Carnivals, concerts, sports events and a five-week children’s summer camp, which, according to Nastu, serves 150 Bridgeport children every summer, fills out the rest of the season.
The 325 acres of parkland are home to all kinds of activities. Felix Ramirez, who was out on the jetty near Fayerweather Island, catching bluefish on June 16, frequently fishes at Seaside.
“I’m out here every day,” he said, after hauling in two blues.
He’s not alone. When the tide is high, fishermen crowd the Bridgeport Harbor side of the park, hoping for a bite from striped bass or bluefish.
On weekends, the playing fields are alive with baseball and soccer games.
“There’s a ton of events that go on in the summer,” said Elaine Ficarra, communications director for the city of Bridgeport. “They’re very heavily used by everyone from community groups to family groups who want to come down and have a big barbeque or a family reunion; everyone from the Vibes to family reunions to church activities.”
The most popular feature of the park during the heat wave that took place in early June was the beach.
According to Ficarra, the lifeguards will come on duty the last weekend in June and work through Labor Day, but the absence of lifeguards didn’t stop many residents from taking a dip.
During the recent high temperatures, Rasheed Muhammad and his infant son of the same name waded into the water to beat the heat. The family lives in Bridgeport, but Muhammad said they like to drive to the beaches all along the Connecticut coast.
“It’s all the same water,” he joked.
Since the park is so heavily used, said Ficarra, safety is a concern. Signs are posted to discourage people from swimming in prohibited areas and the park is patrolled constantly.
“We always have the park police and the police force patrolling the parks, especially down at Seaside Park, to ensure that everyone has a safe and pleasant experience in the park,” she said.