Surf fisherman often trudged through the sand on Two-Bit Road at Island Beach State Park to make their way around the towering dunes, on their way to the beach and the waves.
But there is little in the way of a cut now, since Superstorm Sandy swamped the park on Oct. 29. And in many sections of Island Beach, the carefully cultivated, cherished dunes - strengthened by beach grass and protected by snow fence - are no more.
"There's a lot more devastation at this end of the beach," said Area Supervisor Ray Bukowski, as he steered his Ford F-250 down the nearly deserted beach in the park's Northern Natural Area.
The beach is littered with pilings, crab pots, storm debris and even a roller coaster car from nearby Seaside Heights.
The scene is much the same farther south, towards the two bathing beaches. Rhizomes of dead beach grass jut through the remaining dunes, which are now much smaller, scarped by wind and water.
But a hardy group of volunteers - including members of the Friends of Island Beach, the New Jersey Beach Buggy Association and Clean Ocean Action - made short work of lugging discarded Scotch pines, Frasier firs and basalm Christmas to trenches where the dunes once stood.
Katie Barnett - who works in the state Department of Environmental Protection's water resource management section - put the event together. She had three goals.
Getting donated Christmas trees was the easy part. Barnett put an announcement on the DEP's Division of Parks and Forestry's website. That's all it took to more than meet the goal of 1,000 trees.
"It went viral," Barnett said. "Within hours, we had offers for thousands of trees. We actually got 4,000 trees."
She needed volunteers to lug the trees to the trenches. Clean Ocean Action, kids from the Peddie School and the Friends of Island Beach stepped in.
Barnett also needed volunteers with trucks and beach buggies to ferry volunteer to the different sections and then bring them back to the command center at the pavilion at Ocean Bathing Beach No. 1. She got what she needed.
Cheryl, Dominique and DiGuglielmo gave up their Saturday morning to help with the trees. The DiGuglieilmo family have been unable to return to their Aldo Drive home in the Silverton section of Toms River since Sandy struck.
"We were devastated by the storm," Cheryl said. "We lost everything."
But they had a brief respite from their problems in the cold, crisp air on the sunlit beach that smelled like Christmas. A southeast wind blew briskly off the foam-capped waves.
Eventually, the dunes will be back, said Lynette Lurig, a research scientist with the DEP's Division of Water Resources.
"The dunes did what they were supposed to do," she said. "The winds will eventually blow back the sand to where it's supposed to be."
While some sections of the park look almost back to normal, others do not. Parts of the Shore Road have high banks of sand on either side, as if it had snowed.
The "epicenter" of the damage was in the A-7 section of the park, Bukowski said.
"All of the wind and water funneled through north and south and blew out the access way," he said.
Bukowski and his staff have been working seven days a week since Sandy hit. But it will pay off when they move back into their offices at the park next Tuesday.
A few sections of Island Beach are slated to open sometime next week, said DEP spokesman Bob Considine.