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SALTWATER PORTRAIT

Walking the beach with Bill Schab

Lewes attorney takes daily treks around The Point in Cape Henlopen State Park
October 31, 2017

Story Location:
Lewes  Delaware  19958
United States

To the annoyance of many Cape Region beach lovers, every year, The Point at Cape Henlopen State Park closes in the spring and reopens in the fall to allow a colony of piping plovers to nest without fear of human activity.

This year, the circular trail that begins and ends in the The Point parking lot reopened in full Oct. 1. Sunrise opening day was at 6:56 a.m., and by 6:55 a.m., a barefoot Bill Schab was next to his parked Toyota Prius, eager to be the first person to trek the point where the Atlantic Ocean and the Delaware River meet.

"I always try to be first," Schab would say later.

For the better part of 10 years, Schab, a Lewes attorney who specializes in real estate law, has spent a portion of every morning taking a walk on the beach. The majority of those walks, he said, have taken place at The Point in Cape Henlopen State Park.

"Sometimes I will drive other places, but my favorite beach, in my favorite state park, also happens to be the closest," he said. "That's the real reason."

Schab began taking the walks after his wife Maureen died, in December 2007. He said his internal body clock changed.

"I started getting up with the sun. I had to do something," he said.

Schab, who has lived in the same downtown Lewes house since 1976, said the walks give him time to think. As he walks, he composes work memos in his head. One time, when The Point was closed, he said he walked from Herring Point, a dune crossing south of The Point in the state park, to Rehoboth Beach.

"It's so pretty and calming. There are no interruptions," he said. "You get a lot of time to think. It wasn't always great, but most of the time it was."

On this year's opening day, the barefooted Schab was in athletic shorts and a sweatshirt. He carried three, well-used reuseable grocery bags. Schab, who readily admits to being someone who thinks The Point trail should be open year-round, said he started bringing the bags to pick up garbage shortly after he began taking his walks. He said he picks up so much trash he has three recycling containers at home.

Schab said he draws the line at picking up one category of trash – bags of dog poop. He didn't explain have to explain why.

Schab chose the bayside entrance to the trail. The wind was howling out of the east, and he said the dunes would offer some protection from the wind for at least the first part of the walk. He likes the first few weeks after The Point reopens because he can still make the walk in bare feet.

Moving at a brisk pace, Schab talked while constantly scanning the beach. The terrain changes daily, he said, pointing to a small patch of green dune grass at the very north of the point that's separated from the rest of the dune by a rapidly growing canyon.

"Things that are here today, could be gone tomorrow," he said, predicting that sometime in the not-too-distant future the ocean and bay sides of the canyon will meet during a storm.

Schab said the more severe the weather, the more he likes the walk. He was out the day after Hurricane Sandy brushed The Point before slamming into New Jersey. He said he had to park his vehicle at the front gate and walk in because the park was still closed.

Not knowing what to expect when he got out there, Schab said he was surprised to find thousands of starfish, thousands of sunglasses and thousands of shells had all been dumped in the same area.

"That was neat," he said.

The opening-morning walk was fairly straightforward. High tide was around 6 a.m., limiting ocean-delivered treasures. Schab found a buoy, but mostly he found a bag-and-a-half of trash. It took 45 minutes.

Schab is basically indifferent about making the walk into some kind of exercise. He said if it had been low tide, with a lot of exposed rocks, he would have sectioned areas off and taken hours.

"I hate formal exercise, but doing this is better than nothing," he said, adding that he still golfs, plays basketball and does other things to stay active.

Following the walk, Schab, still in his bare feet, showed off some of his beach finds in his home. Inside and out, the home is a mishmash of items he's collected over the years.

Wrapped around a branch of a sycamore tree in his side yard is a 6-inch-thick, 30-foot-long mooring rope that could have fallen off any one of those massive shipping vessels that pass The Point on a daily basis. There's a playhouse in the backyard, with so many roped buoys, it looks like it was constructed with supplies found on a deserted island.

On the other side of the house, in a nondescript, black trash bag, are hundreds of pairs of sunglasses.

Schab said most of them were found after Hurricane Sandy, but he keeps adding to them. Hanging off a clothesline, next to the playhouse, are coils of rope and two of the many hard hats he's found over the years.

Inside the house, more than half a dozen large glass vases – the decorative kind found at Michaels, typically used to for fake floral arrangements – are filled with seaglass of all shapes and sizes. One vase, sitting on the mantel, is layered, starting with clear glass on the bottom, then green, then brown, then clear again. In the living room is a table with a glass display case where he stores some of his most prized finds. Inside, sitting next to a rusted .45-caliber bullet, are pieces of glass representing the whole color wheel.

Schab said it's not as easy to find glass as it once was, and he doesn't keep all the glass he finds. Walking by a small table against the wall in his dining room, he said that is where he looks over all the glass before putting it away. He said if there are any spots on the glass that haven't been clouded by sand, he throws it back.

Schab said if a person walks the beach enough, they can find anything. He said he's given lots and lots of clothing and towels to a local thrift shop. He said he'll occasionally give a really unique piece of seaglass to a local jeweler.

"Nothing goes to waste," he said.

Schab, engaged to remarry, said looking out into the future, he expects to keep taking his walks.

"The fun is in the walks," he said. "I love trying to figure out what the story could be behind everything I find."

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