SEASIDE HEIGHTS, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie made his final Memorial Day weekend trip to the shore as governor on Friday.

Christie visited Seaside Heights as the start of the season begins up and down the coast. The governor has made trips to the shore on the Friday before Memorial Day a tradition.

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“I was here in the days after the storm, walked out with my family, and our whole team was here to see the destruction that happened to this pier,” he said.

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As CBS2’s Meg Baker reported, the boardwalk was packed Friday with families looking to start the summer season off on the right foot.

“Getting together celebrating Memorial Day and, you know what it means – absolutely,” said Mark Mazzella of Ramsey, New Jersey.

“It’s great to get out after the winter we had, but it’s better to see that it’s all rebuilt. And it’s actually beautiful,” another beach goer told WCBS 880’s Kelly Waldron.

Christie walked the boardwalk, stopping for selfies along the way before cutting the ribbon on Lucky Leo’s Sweet Shop and the new Hydrus roller coaster.

Lucky Leo’s owner Leo Whalen, 90, has been operating on the boardwalk since 1953-1954.

“It’s just another indication of the fact that the Jersey Shore is all the way back from Sandy, and four years later, you know, I’m really, really proud what everyone’s been able to do here,” Christie said.

The Hydrus was built to replace a coaster that fell into the ocean during Superstorm Sandy.

“The old icon of the old roller coaster being in the water is gone,” Mayor Tony Vaz said. “This is a new rejuvenation.”


Christie also looked back on another tragedy. Just shy of a year after Sandy, shop owners were wiped out by a fire in September 2013.

“After the fire, which was in some ways for me worse than Sandy, because we have spent time all this time and money and energy rebuilding it, and then to come down here and watch it burn down,” Christie said.

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John Enderson said he is thankful for investments from people like Lucky Leo in the community.

“We go back to people like the Whalens that — old time here, and their heart’s in it too,” Enderson said.

Meanwhile, the rebuilt Casino Pier also includes a brand new Ferris wheel.

“Our boardwalk is 95 percent back with the businesses,” Seaside Heights Director of Community Improvements Mike Loundy told CBS2’s John Elliott. “There is over $100 million in new investments just this year.”

Vaz has made it his mission to make Seaside Heights not only a fun destination for the adult and the college crowd, but to also get families back on the boardwalk.

“For the last several years, we’ve been trying to make Seaside’s image change and we want to make it a family destination,” Vaz told 1010 WINS’ Samantha Liebman.

Judy Marquez and Pat Hoope said they have been friends since kindergarten with Seaside Heights their summer tradition.

“It went downhill for a while,” Marquez told CBS2’s Baker. “But I think it’s come up very far and I love it here.”

“Since Sandy, they have done so much to revitalize it,” Hoope said. “It’s so much cleaner and nicer. It’s more of a family resort now.”

And many parents say they plan to come back multiple times this season.

“He loves the rides, the games, that’s exciting, something he doesn’t do all the time,” said mom Anna Bermal. “It’s nice, family oriented.”

Belmar is also getting ready for a big holiday weekend.

“For people who come from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania — all over the place,” Mayor Matt Doherty told 1010 WINS’ John Montone.

AAA estimates that about 34.6 million Americans will be taking long car trips away from home this weekend.

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(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)