America’s oldest seaside resort harbors dirty secret

At 7 years old, my family and I started going on summer weekend trips to Cape May, N.J.

My stepfather was born and raised in Philly, and had also grown up making these trips down to the shore.

We would spend our days at the beach, taking in the sun and immersing ourselves in the Atlantic Ocean for hours at a time. After sunset, we would almost always barbecue.

When I was 12, my parents decided to move to Cape May for good and, even today, these cherished childhood memories are what keep me going back.

Cape May is one of America’s oldest vacation resort destinations and is actually considered a National Historic Landmark. Cape May County then, which includes other significant resort towns such as Wildwood and Ocean City, relies heavily on tourism, leisure and hospitality to sustain its immense economy.

I’ll put it this way, Cape May claims a year-round population of roughly 3,600 people, and during the summer, the population is expanded by as much as 40,000 to 50,000 people. At the end of August, though, these hoards of “shoobies” that have inhabited countless hotels and shore homes for three straight months all leave at the same time and it can make things pretty dull for the natives when the summer festivities come to an abrupt end.

Unfortunately, jobs also become scarce as the tourists head home and when boredom and unemployment really set in, a disturbing amount of the locals turn to drugs for entertainment — specifically, heroin.

I have grown increasingly aware of the problem over the years since coming to Gannon, but I knew just how bad it was when, in June, police conducted an operation that resulted in the seizure of 33 pounds of heroin, valued at about $10 million. It was the biggest drug bust in Cape May County history.

It seems that at least once a week, I read about another person I went to school with who has been arrested for some petty crime they clumsily devised and executed in order to feed their monstrous addiction. The worst part is when the person turns out to be someone who was once a good friend.

I love Cape May. When it comes down to it though, it’s the people more than the place itself that are responsible for my strong emotional attachment. Like I said before, locals are outnumbered 10,000 to 1 during the summer and as a result, there exists an unparalleled degree of unity and loyalty amongst all locals in our community. So then, when I see that yet another local has overdosed on heroin, I feel an increasing level of resentment for this drug and how it is ruining our community.

I still plan on moving back to Cape May after graduation, and hope to one day have children who will grow up on the beach.  My greatest fear, though, is that they will also grow up and have to watch friends ruin their lives with heroin.

I truly believe in Cape May County’s ability to beat this problem and there’s no doubt that it’s going to take years of work. It will be worth it when we can fully take pride in our hometown and we no longer have to associate it with this heroin epidemic.



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