Beaches to bustle over Labor Day weekend

REHOBOTH BEACH — Local officials are expecting a horde of people to descend on the beach towns this weekend for the Labor Day holiday.

Rehoboth Beach, a town of just 1,400 people, could see its population grow more than 300 times, City Manager Sharon Lynn.

The draw is obvious: beaches that, as Delaware tourism’s website brags, are “full of simple pleasures, with an edge of sophisticated fun.”

Traffic builds on Del. 1 near Smyrna Friday evening. (Delaware State News photo by Dave Chambers)

Traffic builds on Del. 1 near Smyrna Friday evening. (Delaware State News photo by Dave Chambers)

The weather over the weekend is expected to be partly cloudy with a chance of rain and temperatures no higher than the low 80s. Giant crowds were expected to turn out along the coast in southern Delaware.

While the number of visitors is hard to predict, Ms. Lynn said the town could see 50,000 tourists, similar to what it drew last year.

Carol Everhart, president and CEO of the Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce, estimated Rehoboth Beach and the surrounding resort area typically draw hundreds of thousands of people on summer weekends.

That area, she said, encompasses Lewes, Rehoboth Beach and Dewey Beach and stretches down to the Indian River Inlet Bridge, where Bethany Beach begins.

On “any given weekend” in a four-month stretch — from July to October — massive crowds come to the small communities located along the Atlantic Ocean, Ms. Everhart said.

Crowds in Rehoboth Beach start declining in the second half of August, briefly picking up for Labor Day, Ms. Lynn said. But Ms. Everhart said tourism generally remains constant in the overall area even after school starts and summer turns to fall.

This weekend, many people are expected to come not on Friday but on Saturday, Ms. Everhart said. According to a survey of area hotels and motels, vacancies were available for Friday.

Labor Day tourism has been consistent in recent years, as many people now know about the allure of the Delaware beaches, she said.

Additionally, new developments have been built, allowing people to rent or buy summer homes.

“They found us,” she said with a chuckle.

AAA projected 169,000 Delawareans would travel over the long weekend. According to the group, fewer people typically travel when Labor Day falls late in the calendar, as it does this year.

“While increasing travel volume is great news for the industry and economy, our survey shows a decidedly ‘un-laboring’ take on the Labor Day holiday,” Jim Lardear, director of public and government affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said in a statement.

“Many would rather spend the holiday at cookouts, relaxing or simply at home to avoid heavy holiday traffic congestion or additional spending, especially if they have already taken a vacation this summer.”

Thirty-five percent of Delaware travelers were only going on day trips. Fifteen percent intended to travel to the beach, AAA reported.

In Delaware as of Thursday, a gallon of gasoline cost an average of $2.31, about $1 less than last year and the lowest price in a decade, according to AAA.

According to a Department of Transportation spokesman, traffic is heaviest in July and the beginning of August. It does pick up again for the Labor Day weekend but remains manageable.

In anticipation of visitors, DelDOT has suspended lane closures for the weekend.

It also is promoting its app, which can be found at the Apple and Google Play stores and online at the agency’s website.

Hundreds of thousands of vehicles passed through the state’s three main toll plazas last year at the holiday. From Aug. 29 to Sept. 1, 2014, about 220,000 cars used the Dover toll site, the southernmost of the toll plazas.

That figure could include cars recorded both going to and from the beach.

According to locals, cars bearing license plates from Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, New Jersey and Ohio are the most common.

“New Jersey and New York are maybe due to Hurricane Sandy,” Ms. Lynn said.

The storm hit the Northeast United States in fall 2012 and did particularly severe damage to the Garden and Empire states.

Tracking the number of Delawareans who visit from Kent and New Castle counties can be difficult because a car with a First State license plate could just as easily belong to a Rehoboth Beach resident as a Wilmington visitor, Ms. Everhart said. But, many people do come from New Castle County, often for special events at the beach.

The mass of people traveling down to the beach has obvious economic benefits.

The state government makes money from tolls, while municipalities bring in a tidy sum thanks to parking fees.

Businesses are able to thrive as well as the visitors to the Delaware beaches over the course of a year come prepared to spend.

While for many Labor Day is the last chance to capture some summer fun, Rehoboth Beach and other shore communities continue to see benefits from their location year-round.

“To go from virtually a lot of actual business closures and hardly any feet on the street after Labor Day to 52 weekends I think is a huge kudo for everybody,” Ms. Everhart said.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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