It’s that time of year. Coastal tourists and locals alike are ready to really enjoy everything a boardwalk has to offer. From busy and historic stretches, like Coney Island and Atlantic City’s boardwalks, to quiet timber lined paths found along beaches, lakes, and natural preserves across the United States, these simple structures are an often overlooked but important part of community infrastructure.
Like all infrastructure, boardwalks do require regular upkeep. Though a well-built system of timber planks and rails, fastened with heavy duty carriage bolts can withstand storms, snow and ice, and other common weather, more extreme winters and weather episodes can leave boardwalks in a real state of disrepair, which amounts to limited use and a poor reflection on the community.
Boardwalk repairs are a common need throughout New England. The coastal areas in the Northeast deal with major weather issues on a regular basis. This leaves communities with a lot of cleanup and restoration due as soon as winter extremes subside and the clock starts ticking for peak beach tourism season.
The Bass Hole Boardwalk, a popular feature of Grays Beach at Yarmouth Port in Cape Cod, was damaged in this way and had to be closed to the public. Local contractors found themselves backlogged with extensive repair work needed throughout the community, putting town officials in a bind for reopening efforts. Though a portion of the Bass Hole Boardwalk was repaired and reopened at the end of June, additional work was needed to return the feature to full safety and functionality, leaving the town facing a potential $60,000 repair bill to complete the job.
This is where inmate work crews were able to save considerable costs for the town and help move repairs along. Coordinated through local contractor Robert B. Our and the local sheriff’s office, the Bass Hole Boardwalk’s observation deck, handrails and decking were repaired efficiently and with cost savings of $25,000. The inmate work crew program has been contributing to similar projects through the Cape, saving the area hundreds of thousands of dollars.
There are no labor costs when relying on the inmate teams. And while they are unpaid, the program’s crews receive meals and a chance to put essential building and repair skills to work in the fresh air. The program is a very exclusive opportunity, with just ten percent of inmates being approved for this type of work.
This past spring, the town saved $15,000 in the process of repairing its Taylor Bray Farm Boardwalk thanks to the help of the inmate work program. As Cape Cod has shown just how successful this approach can be, especially as labor shortages affect projects in more communities, perhaps other areas will follow their example.