BRADLEY BEACH — For many in Bradley Beach, former Mayor Julie Schreck was ahead of her time.
Ms. Schreck, described as a passionate environmentalist by those who knew her, planted the seeds in what would grow into the green heart of Bradley Beach.
On Tuesday, friends and family of the former mayor, who died in 2014, dedicated the maritime forest in her honor. Signs installed at both sides of the natural area welcome visitors to The Julie Schreck Maritime Forest.
“We lost her far too early, but this maritime forest is very fitting to see the seeds of her vision, hard work and sense of collaboration establishing roots, blades, leaves and blossoms is truly moving,” Rachel Schreck, Ms. Shrecck’s sister said.
JULIE SCHREcK, the ENVIRONMENTALIST
Serving as the borough’s mayor from 2008 to 2012, Ms. Schreck helped to launch the project in 2013. Before the forest, the area on the northern end of Bradley Beach was a parking lot.
While the idea to build a maritime forest started in 2009, the plan really didn’t pick up speed until after Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
Capt. Al Modjeski, of the American Littoral Society, which in 2018 signed a 10-year agreement with the town to not develop the area of the maritime forest, helped to start the forest with the former mayor.
“When Sandy came, that kind of opened everybody’s eyes,” Capt. Modjeski said.
While Bradley Beach was largely protected from stormwater runoff after Superstrom Sandy, and the dunes and bulkhead absorbed the impact of the rushing waters, the coastal lake between the borough and Ocean Grove was not so lucky.
The forest, Capt. Modjeski said, will help to filter out stormwater runoff to prevent Fletcher Lake from being inundated with silt and debris as happened after the storm.
The transformation took a long time to complete; efforts were split into three phases, with new plants, signage and walking paths installed throughout the area. On Tuesday, Phase III came to a close, marking the conclusion of the bulk of the work. Now, attention turns to preserving the forest.
“Check this out in 20 years. You are going to be amazed,” the captain said.
Mayor Larry Fox, who spoke at the dedication ceremony, said the borough benefited not only from Ms. Schreck’s many projects, which included starting the Bradley Beach Arts Council, but also in helping the borough recover from Superstorm Sandy.
JULIE SCHRECK, THE POLITICIAN
Councilman John Weber, who knew Ms. Schreck, said she went against the grain in terms of Bradley Beach politics. The first female mayor in borough history, she had “somewhat of a hard time as mayor.”
“She had the skills and the smarts and the desire to change things, but some people really didn’t want to change,” he said.
When the borough’s environmental commission started to get Sustainable Jersey certification, they “were just documenting things that Julie put together.”
“We didn’t have to do anything new,” the councilman added.
Edmond Cicchi, a confidant of Ms. Schreck, said that she was the “best mayor Bradley Beach ever had.”
“If you look around town, you will see all the evidence of all the hard work that Julie put in, she was honest, upright and the most intelligent person I knew,” he said.
State Senator Vin Gopal, another friend of Ms. Schreck, remarked on how she was a politician whose demeanor harkens back to a more civil age of politics.
“Julie had some incredibly passionate beliefs, but never let that affect how she treated people and what she did each and every day in Bradley Beach,” he said. “When we think about the toxic environment we see at the national level … I think in pain about the last six, seven years about how far we’ve gone backwards, because her love of community and people and trying to make the work a better place is such a model.”
The maritime forest is also a credit to Ms. Schreck’s sense of collaboration and working together to make a difference.
Among the plethora of groups that helped to create the forest are the NJ Corporate Wetlands Restoration Partnership, JCP&L, New Jersey Natural Gas, NJM Insurance, Pinelands Nursery, AECOM, PS&S, Atlantic Lifts, Rutgers University, Surfrider Foundation, Conservation Resources Inc. and Bloomfield University.
Governmental agencies from the federal government – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Environmental Protection Agency – and state government – New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Sustainable Jersey – and local authorities – Monmouth County, the Bradley Beach Department of Public Works, Bradley Beach Environmental Commission and Bradley Beach Elementary School – also helped to mold the forest into the habitat it is today.
JULIE SCHRECK, THE PERSON
While many know about Ms. Schreck’s passion for the environment, her family highlighted one of her dreams to have a beach house with an open-door policy, where friends and family could come at any time and enjoy themselves.
The maritime forest, which in 10 years has become a home for wildlife in the area, has become the fulfillment of that dream, family members said.
“Before Julie ever thought about being on the town council, and then mayor, she had another personal vision: she wanted to have fun, open a beach house,” her sister said. “I can now think of this maritime forest as an even greater type of home by the beach.”
“It’s sheltering the lake and the town from storm surge, sheltering the bees and the birds and a place where even more kids could come and enjoy the shore, learn about the habitat and the importance of protecting it.”
It is that teaching of the next generation that becomes important when it comes to preserving the maritime forest.
“If we do not tell the next generation about the people or why this is here and what it is about it could be lost in a generation,” Councilman Weber said. “Tell the next generation, tell people about this little patch of land, tell people about Julie Schreck and we could celebrate this together.”
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