SEASIDE HEIGHTS, N.J. (AP) — As Jersey shore towns announce plans to work together this summer to welcome tourists back in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, a new poll finds that more than three-quarters of regular visitors to the shore say they'll be back again this year.
The Top 10 Beaches contest will not have voting this year that pits one town against another for bragging rights at the shore.
Rather, the New Jersey Sea Grant Consortium says the program will focus on cooperation among regional tourism leaders as the shore recovers from Superstorm Sandy.
"In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, the project will put rivalry on hold for 2013 and instead celebrate everything there is to still love about the Jersey shore," said Kim Kosko, a spokeswoman for the organization. "From a calendar photo contest to sharing favorite shore memories, we'll invite people to be a part of celebrating New Jersey's beach communities and recognizing what makes them all so memorable and special."
The change of heart came as a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll released Monday finds that of those who plan to come back, 64 percent plan to stay as long as they had in past years, while 13 percent planned to stay even longer this summer.
Most of the 20 percent of respondents who are planning shorter stays said Sandy's effects are the reason.
Atlantic City (11 percent) and Seaside Heights (10 percent) are respondents' top destinations, followed by Wildwood, Long Beach Island, Point Pleasant Beach and Ocean City.
The poll surveyed nearly 800 New Jersey adults. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
"The summer tourist season seems surprisingly stable, though perhaps down slightly based on current plans," said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers. "While some regulars will cut back due to Sandy, most expect to spend as much or more time than ever enjoying the Jersey shore. Even those cutting back are still more likely to visit than to stay away entirely."
The Top 10 Beaches contest began in 2008 as a way to generate pride in and stewardship of New Jersey's beaches. People voted online at www.toptenbeaches.org for their favorite shore spot, and the results were unveiled at a pre-Memorial Day news conference.
This year's program will relentlessly pound the message that the entire Jersey shore was not destroyed by Sandy. While the worst damage occurred in Ocean and Monmouth counties, resorts including Wildwood, Ocean City and Cape May were barely affected. Other spots that were hit hard, like Long Beach Island, Point Pleasant Beach and Belmar, have made great progress in recovering and rebuilding, and expect to be fully ready for Memorial Day weekend crowds.
The New Jersey Sea Grant Consortium is an affiliation of colleges, universities and other groups dedicated to advancing knowledge and stewardship of New Jersey's marine and coastal environment.
The towns of Wildwood, Wildwood Crest and North Wildwood, marketed collectively as The Wildwoods, won top honors in last year's competition. Wildwood, or some combination of the three Wildwoods, has won the contest in four out of the last five years.
Ocean City, which won the contest in 2009, finished second last year.
The six municipalities on Long Beach Island, also entering as a single entity, placed third.
Sea Isle City came in fourth, Belmar placed fifth and Cape May came in sixth. Manasquan placed seventh, followed by Island Beach State Park, Sandy Hook and Seaside Heights.
The contest is run as a way of making people feel more connected to and protective of the state's 127-mile coastline. It mixes the results of direct voting online, with scientific analysis of beaches on environmental and other criteria to rank the top 10 finishers.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC