Volunteers on Bolivar Peninsula save people struck in sand
JOHN WAYNE FERGUSON
Aug. 08, 2018
CRYSTAL BEACH, Texas (AP) — Bolivar Peninsula beaches have been like sugar this summer, people who watch that sort of thing report.
The Galveston County Daily News reports dry weather has left the sand especially loose. For front-wheel-drive cars, it's a trap.
Fortunately, someone is watching out for beachgoers who get stuck.
Peninsula residents have organized an ad hoc group with Jeeps, trucks, golf carts and other vehicles to help drivers get out of the ruts they're stuck in.
"A lot of the people that get stuck are brand new here and don't know anything about posting on Facebook, and somebody will drive by and say 'I'm making a post,'" said Stevi Gregory, who created the Facebook group Bolivar Beach Vehicle Rescue and acts as a virtual dispatcher for its volunteers.
"The next thing, 10 or 15 people show up," she said. "They get overwhelmed. They start crying, especially the single moms when they get stuck with their kids."
Gregory, a self-described "sucker for helping other people," started the group as a way of passing on some kindness her family received.
Last year, her husband's truck and welding trailer got caught in a washout on a peninsula road, she said. With the tides rising and panic setting in, she put out a desperate plea for help on her Facebook page.
"I didn't know what to do; it was getting dark," she said. "I just put out a thing on Facebook that said my husband was stuck and sinking fast."
Within 10 minutes, two people were out there. Within two hours, there were 30 people.
They got him, and his equipment, out safely.
That experience motivated her to organize a group to help others in similar jams. The group's Facebook page now includes more than 3,000 people.
The group's rules are simple. If you spot someone on a Bolivar Peninsula beach who needs help, post a photo and an approximate location. An owner needs to be with the vehicle — so group members can't be accused of touching or damaging a vehicle without permission.
Group members who can make it to the beach with their tow ropes or chains show up, if they're willing and available. There's no rotation or shifts, but many members are on alert and ready to roll on short notice, especially on weekends, Gregory said.
The Facebook group is an extension of the regular beach culture on Bolivar, member Paul Fugitt said.
"It's a common natural act of friendship," Fugitt said. "We don't ask for anything. We help people out. They're here to enjoy the beach. If they get stuck, we unstick them."
Most of the rescues involve cars stuck in the sand near beach access points.
Less common — but not unheard of — are cars and trucks that get swamped and stuck in the mud after drivers fail to move away from a high tide.
One of the group's signature achievements was rescuing a $700,000 RV mired in the sand near the tideline on Father's Day weekend. Nearly a dozen rescuers showed up to help that owner out. They managed to get the big rig unstuck before the tide came all the way in.
Rescuers pulled 400 Jeeps out of the sand during the annual Go Topless Weekend, an ad hoc Jeep festival that happens on the peninsula every May.
But even normal summer weekends provide plenty of work.
"We could do 100, 150 cars on a weekend," he said. One driver had to be pulled out of soft sand four times.
There is some risk to doing the work. One rescuer lost his truck to the water trying to pull out another person's vehicle, Gregory said.
The group fills a need on the peninsula, where there are no towing companies. That means people who get stuck and call a wrecker might have to wait for one to cross on the Galveston-Port Bolivar Ferry or come from Beaumont — and face hundreds of dollars in fees for the service.
Some towing companies won't even bother coming to Bolivar, group members said.
"They won't come out and they're charging entirely too much because they're getting their tires dirty," said Justin "Gator" Glatthaar, one of the rescuers.
Volunteers in the group aren't allowed to charge for their services.
If Gregory catches them charging, they're kicked out of the Facebook group, she said. Members can keep a tip — be it a few dollars or a few beers — if the stranded is inclined to give one. For most of the rescuers, being thanked and keeping people safe and happy is reward enough, Gregory said
"They're generous and kind and very kind-hearted," Gregory said. "They're not worried about money; they're just here to help out."
Information from: The Galveston County Daily News, http://www.galvnews.com