While we were noodling down the eastern seaboard, enjoying the fall foliage in the Shenandoah, things were a bit more hectic for my family here in northeastern Florida. Hurricane Matthew came up the coast just offshore in mid-October, spreading a half foot or more of rain and 70-80 mile per hour winds throughout the area. Luckily my family is large enough that some live on the mainland, so when the police evacuated the barrier islands everybody piled into one sister’s house and they ate all the food thawing out from the now-without-power refrigerator and drank heavily until the danger abated.
Nobody had to do much more than clean up all the debris that got blown around, there was no structural damage or flooding, but in general the closer you were to the ocean the more likely you were to get some bad outcomes. With that in mind, we set off south on A1A to spend a few days doing some oceanfront camping at Gamble Rogers, 80 miles south of where my family lives, and survey the storm’s effects on our drive south.
Most of what we saw on the various beach houses lining A1A was minor damage to roofs and siding. However, the highway itself sustained some damage just south of Flagler Beach as we approached the park – the ocean looked, and was, much closer to the repaired highway than I remembered from our six previous years’ worth of trips down this stretch. The Gulf Stream swings close to shore here, the beach is very steep, and they can’t afford to lose much in the way of beach sand before roads and houses start tumbling into the ocean.
Gamble Rogers is a lovely Florida state park right on the ocean north of Daytona Beach, and we have a sneaky system of snagging last-minute cancellations at this high-demand park once we get back to Florida for the holidays, which I wrote about earlier. You’re usually putting together a string of individual night stays at different campsites, so you have to move every day, which isn’t nearly as much work in a Class B as it would be in a towable or Class A. We work with the campground staff to make things easy for them, and everybody’s happy.
When we checked in, we were told that two of the three beach access walkways were closed, and my first trip to the beach showed why. The storm surge had come right up to the crest of the dune separating the campground from the beach, and any structure on the seaward side took a beating. The wheelchair ramps were pretty much demolished, with the pilings and some braces still intact, but all planking facing the ocean was long gone.
The beach had also moved a few feet inland – the dune face was sprouting these long reddish roots which used to be safely buried, but were now exposed and trailing down onto the beach. Florida uses what is called “beach nourishment”, which is a giant barge sucking up sand a few hundred feet offshore and pumping this sand slurry up onto the beach. It’s a constant process in tourist areas as gravity and weather move the sand back where it really wants to be, but people’s insistence on fixed property lines means that you have to work hard to create the illusion of permanence out here. These barrier islands have moved hundreds of yards in historic times, as old maps will attest.
The park staff have done a great job of working around the problems caused by the hurricane, and Gamble Rogers has its usual collection of people from Michigan, Wisconsin, and even Germany walking around with blissful smiles on their faces. I don’t begrudge the people who stay right up until checkout time, even if it means I have to scramble to move out of my old spot and into my new one – I’m always going somewhere that’s 70 degrees and sunny, and they may be going back home to months of snow and ice.