Last Community Bridge Walk Hits a High on Revamped Span

By AVA RUFF | Sep 25, 2019
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

In its 10th and final year, the Community Bridge Walk on Sept. 22 made great use of the finished Manahawkin Bay Bridge project. One of the two westbound lanes on the rebuilt span was coned off for pedestrians, and participants walked together safely from the Old Causeway Steak and Oyster House in Mud City to the 10th Street Waterfront Park in Ship Bottom (3.1 total miles – 6,662 steps, according to a Fitbit). There is no other event I’ve ever seen like it, except the Mackinac Bridge Walk in Michigan.

It’s a back-to-school tradition that everyone, including myself, has looked forward to for the last 10 years. I’ve walked every year with my family, friends and teachers, beginning in elementary school and all the way through high school, since I was 8 years old. We walked when there was one bridge, the original Causeway built in the 1950s. We walked when its twin bridge was built in 2013, and walked every year as the bridges changed shape and became what they are today: a construction-free, twin span with a pedestrian walkway. We’ve walked the bridge on crisp, sunny days; blustery days; rainy days; and days like this year’s, 85 degrees and sweaty!

Over the years, the themes for the Bridge Walk were fun – like the Hawaiian theme with hula dancers from Atlantic City. Or the year we had a pirate theme, with a Johnny Depp look-alike Jack Sparrow. My favorite was the patriotic theme, where everyone wore red, white and blue. The theme this year was celebrating 10 years of Walking Together with the Community as the “Bridge Walk Hero.”

For this year’s final walk, the Southern Regional Marching Band, cheerleaders and ROTC were there to get everyone into the walking spirit. Mark Keeler of MK Productions ran the sound system as busloads of walkers entered into the Old Causeway lot. Southern Regional High School Assistant Principal Joe DiPietro has been the event MC for all 10 years and was one of the original event founders. He welcomed the walkers and the Southern Regional cheerleaders, who performed twice to warm up the crowd. Next up was the Southern Regional High School Air Force Junior ROTC, with the presentation of the colors. Hadley Magaziner and other singers from the Starlight Performing Art Center of Manahawkin sang our national anthem.

DiPietro introduced Melanie Magaziner, also an event founder. She introduced Community Policing Officer Marisa Lawrence, who gave a safety briefing to the crowd. Lawrence brought on Stafford Mayor Gregory Myhre, who welcomed everyone and noted several town council members who joined him to walk.

Magaziner spoke about growing up in Manahawkin, and how the event came to fruition. She focused on the message of the event, which seeks to bridge the Island and mainland communities. Reflecting on the last 10 years of the Bridge Walk and on other events, she expressed gratitude on behalf of her husband, Eric Magaziner, for being part of a wonderful community.

Next, Corinne Ruff gave out star trophies to the Bridge Walk participants who walked all 10 years. A young boy named Ellis came forward, and Ruff handed him the microphone to say a few words about why he participated in the Bridge Walk for 10 years. Other stars were awarded to Tim Cotov, my elementary school music teacher at the LBI Schools; Dr. Robert Gray of Stafford; my grandfather, who just celebrated his 77th birthday; and Carole Bradshaw, the “Anchor Lady” of Ship Bottom. The Long Beach Island Education Association has sponsored the welcome tent in Ship Bottom for all 10 years and my hardworking elementary school teachers Mrs. Benjamin, Ms. Smith, Ms. Conrad and Ms. Daly were all given 10-year stars.

Next up, Joe Stroffolino, director of advertising and marketing for The Causeway Family of Dealerships, along with General Manager David Wintrode and General Sales Manager Corey Gellis, presented a $10,000 check to Karen Gesicki of the St. Francis Community Center. The presentation is part of the Causeway Family of Dealerships’ 50th year anniversary celebration.

At last, it was time to walk! The SRHS marching band played “The Final Countdown” by Europe, as the 10-year walkers and the Junior ROTC led the excited bridge walkers down East Bay Avenue. If you’ve been a part of this event, you know the incredible feeling of walking together in a procession across the bridge. The sun was shining, there was a slight breeze, and walkers stopped for water at the Typestries Sign & Digital Water Station mid-walk, as they have every year.

As they came to the end of the bridge and wrapped underneath to the path into Waterfront Park, the Interact Club students played the “Rocky” theme music, blew bubbles and cheered everyone on to the finish. The Ship Bottom Volunteer Fire Co. had parked a fire truck and extended the ladder to fly a giant American flag in the park to welcome the walkers. The LBI School Education Association teachers greeted the walkers for the last time.

Each year, Country Corner Market has supplied fresh apples for refreshments. Other items were bananas and granola bars donated by the Stafford schools and popcorn from St. Mary Academy in Manahawkin. The Alliance for a Living Ocean had a hydration station set up for anyone who needed to refill containers. A Tilton Fitness table was set up with a gift basket and information, as well as the Causeway Family of Dealerships table. The Ship Bottom Volunteer Fire Co. tent offered T-shirts for sale to support the fire company.

The five local school districts that receive 100 percent of the proceeds of the event are: Southern Regional schools, Beach Haven School, the LBI schools, St. Mary Academy and the Stafford schools. The main sponsor is Causeway Family of Dealerships, and the supporting sponsor is Van Dyk Group, along with a lot of T-shirt sponsors. The Jetty Rock Foundation runs the event promotion and prints the T-shirts. The Magaziners, partners in the Tide Table Group, host the event at the Old Causeway.

For the last four years I’ve volunteered with the Interact Club, one of about 90 volunteers who work the event every year. I got to work with some great friends, as well as Ms. Conley. She’s the Southern Regional Interact Club adviser, who does all the behind-the-scenes work to make every event that the Interact Club volunteers for amazing.

I’m a senior this year at Southern Regional High School, and have grown up watching the event grow with my friends and family. What makes the event even more special to me is that in 2009, when my brother Jackson and I saw the Mackinac Bridge Walk, we asked our parents why we didn’t have one on our bridge.

Well, the next year we did. We had it for 10 great years.

It may have been the last Bridge Walk, but now that the pedestrian walkway is open, I’m excited to see people enjoying the view as I have for the last 10 years walking with our community. Thank you to all of the sponsors who supported the event. Thank you to Jetty for supporting and promoting the event. Thank you to the walkers who joined us. And most important, thank you to the Magaziners for all you do for our communities.

Thank you, Mr. DiPietro, for always putting the students of SRHS first. Thank you to Ms. Conley for having confidence in our abilities. Thanks to my parents, Corinne and Mark Ruff, for starting the Bridge Walk.

Ava Ruff of Surf City is a senior at Southern Regional High School and the Interact Club community liaison.

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