DAUPHIN ISLAND, Ala. — Buddy Robinson has been visiting Dauphin Island on holiday weekends like this one for decades.
“You couldn’t ask for better weather,” he said Saturday, looking south into the Gulf of Mexico.
Judging by the crowd, however, it might as well have been the middle of autumn, not the unofficial end of summer, the final weekend of the year to enjoy the sun and the sand.
“I’ve seen days in October that had more people than this,” said Robinson, 44, of Mobile.
He stood with six fishing poles jammed into the sand, as a few people from the small, scattered crowd ducked under his lines stretching into the water.
The fish were biting Saturday, but Robinson just threw them back into the water.
He didn’t even want to check them for oil or contaminants, he said. Since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in April, sending millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf, he only fishes here for recreation.
“We’re not eating them,” he said. “It ain’t clean.”
A couple of hundred yards away, six boats were anchored near the shore, where Vanessa Cooper sat with friends and pondered the lack of people.
“It’s very strange,” she said. “It’s isolated.”
The boats are usually squeezed tightly together on this spot on Labor Day weekend, her husband, Casey Cooper, said. A few of their friends decided not to visit Dauphin Island this year, he said, blaming the oil spill.
“It’s kind of sad,” he said. “But we bring everything with us. The party’s where we go.”
Their friend, Cindy Pierce, observed, “I think everybody wrote off their summer after that oil spill.”
To their west, mounds of sand piled up to block the oil stretched past the pier, walling off the sea view from the road.
Traffic on the island was scarce for much of the late morning and early afternoon.
Puddles lined Bienville Boulevard leading to the last public beach on the west end, which was closed. On the northern edge remained the large, rectangular pools, created months ago when chunks of the island were dug out to create sand berms for protection of the southern edge of the west end.
The green box fencing that had been used to line the northern shore of the island had been crumpled and dropped in piles in front of houses.
Don Rhodes, who owns the Pelican Nest RV Resort and Campground, said he had hoped that this weekend would be a relief from the summer that the oil prevented.
But instead of the parked cars lining Bienville Boulevard and blocking the entrance to his park, he looked across at a mostly empty beach.
“We felt like this weekend would be really good,” Rhodes said. “But it just ain’t.”