OCEAN CITY – Boulders may be coming to the beach hopefully in time for this summer as city staff is making progress in finding beach toy replacements but the need for donors remains.

Last month the Recreation and Parks Commission agreed to not have the wooden playground structures, referred to as beach toys, return to the beach off the Boardwalk this summer once staff brought to their attention how the structures have become safety hazards as well as a nuisance with late-night shenanigans.

Once that decision was finalized, many residents and visitors voiced concerns over not having the playgrounds on the beach as they have become a tradition for Boardwalk and beach goers in the summer time. The complaints began to roll in the commission immediately tasked city staff to come up with replacements as soon as possible.

During this week’s Recreation and Parks Commission meeting, Recreation and Parks Director Tom Shuster presented a list of 13 replacement options ranging in the price from $5,900 to $50,000.

Shuster had a preliminary meeting with City Engineer Terry McGean and Public Works Director Hal Adkins to narrow down the list in what would meet state requirements, and what they thought would be practical to move off and on the beach for maintenance and storage, as well as the best for sanitary conditions.

Additionally, Shuster has met with Bill Gibbs, owner of the Dough Roller in Ocean City with a location on 3rd Street and the Boardwalk, who is concerned over the beach toys not returning to the beach this summer and offered his time to help find replacements.

The choices that stood out to the commission were different brands of playground climbing equipment built to represent boulders. Other options included a large pirate ship weighing over 22,000 pounds and a playground shaped into a turtle that were both partially enclosed.

“The whole key to the rocks is they can be transported and dropped on the beach, and they are completely contained so you can’t crawl inside of them, and they look like a natural feature, so they wouldn’t look foreign on the beach,” Shuster said.

Three companies that Shuster presented that provide the boulder shaped commercial playground equipment are Playcore Company’s Everlast Climbing NatureROCKS Sandstone Set, Playworld System’s Origins Boulders and Ropes and Little Tikes Fun Rocks.

For example, the NatureROCKS Sandstone Set is designed and hand painted to resemble real sandstone. The set includes a small, medium and large boulder, each offering a variety of climbing options that will engage children of all ages. Nature Rocks are constructed of Glass Fiber Reinforced Concrete for durability and longevity.

“At least there will be less splinters, and you can’t go inside of them and hang out,” Commission Chair/Councilman Joe Mitrecic said.

The question remains how exactly the replacement beach toys will be funded. The town just went through a stringent budget process with little to no wiggle room, and new beach toys were not included in the proposed budget that is now balanced heading into hearings starting this week.

The beach toys that stood on the beach previously were all purchased and donated by local businesses. Shuster said Gibbs has pointed out several boardwalk businesses that stand out has potential donors but still questioned the Town’s contribution.

According to Shuster, Mayor Rick Meehan felt there is some way for the town to match the money raised by donors to serve as some sort of leverage for property owner’s interest in bringing beach toys back to the beach.

“We didn’t match anything before,” Councilman Dennis Dare said. “We don’t have any money left over in this budget … we are going to keep them clean and repair damage, and we are going to remove them in the off-season so they are not damaged, and then we are going to put them back out, so that is our in-kind donation.”

Four out of the five prior beach toys sold on govdeals.com for a total of $3,750, which will most likely go towards the purchase of new beach toys as part of the town’s contribution. The town gave previous donors the option to sell or keep the old beach toys themselves, and the fifth beach toy was taken home by Fishers Popcorn.

The first new beach toy will most likely be placed at 3rd Street because of Gibbs’ interest and participation so far.

“We will start there and work with other donors from there,” Shuster said. “Each of the individual locations will be based on the boardwalk merchants desire to have them.”

The commission directed staff to cut down the list to potential boulder playground equipment to present to the Mayor and City Council, along with a list of interested donors, and costs and turnaround time of the different products.

Once council approves, the town will go through a process to solicit donors to hopefully have the new beach toys out on the beach during the summer.