But as I've realized before, winter is a great time to appreciate the wonderful natural environment of a beach, without the hordes of sun worshipers.
Shaped by storm, wind, and tides, Island Beach State Park is a narrow barrier island stretching for 10 miles between the restless Atlantic Ocean and the historic Barnegat Bay. Despite being a relatively short drive from some of the the most densely populated areas on the East Coast, here you can glimpse the pristine land that native Americans and early European explorers found along the New Jersey coast so long ago.
The park's natural areas encompass one of the few remaining undeveloped barrier beaches in the northeast United States. The park's website notes that rolling sand dunes, salt-sculptured vegetation, lush green salt marshes, and nine plant communities including a "nationally significant" maritime forest characterize Island Beach. The piping plover, a beach bird species that is on the Federal list of threatened species, is an occasional inhabitant of the open beaches and dunes.
|This was the fox that mocked us!|
|This was the fox that was disgusted by the beagles' barking.|
|This was the supermodel fox, ensuring we saw every side. She looked like the largest of the foxes we saw. |
Certainly, she was the least fazed by human attention and interaction.
After enjoying the foxes, we decided to head to the other side of Barnegat Inlet to visit Barnegat Lighthouse, which we could dimly see from the bay side of the island. Although just a few minutes away as the crow flies, by car it's a full hour drive.
This lighthouse is significant because its location on the northern tip of Long Beach Island was regarded as one of the most crucial "change of course" points for coastal vessels. Ships bound to and from New York along the New Jersey coastline depended on Barnegat Lighthouse to avoid the shoals extending from the shoreline. As you drive in New Jersey, you'll notice that some of the NJ license plates depict this lighthouse.
While we were visiting the lighthouse, we walked along the sea wall, watching the gulls and the waves moving through the inlet. We caught a brief glimpse of a harbor seal, but by the time I fumbled with the lens cap, he was gone beneath the surface again. Still, cool to see a harbor seal in the wild! We arrived at the lighthouse just as it was closing -- so I didn't get to climb to the top, unfortunately. The view from the top would be amazing, I imagine, and worth the climb up 217 steps!
Know before you go: Visit Island Beach in May and catch both the beach heather in bloom as well as migrating water fowl overhead!
Getting there: Island Beach State Park is located at the southern terminus of Route 35. Set your GPS for 2308 S Ocean Avenue, Seaside Park, NJ 08752 for Island Beach State Park. To get to Barnegat Lighthouse, set your GPS for 208 Broadway, Barnegut Light, NJ 08006.
Hours: Sunrise to Sunset for Island Beach. Barnegat Lighthouse State Park is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Dogs: Why, of course. But foxes might be a little shy if you bring your pooch.
Website: http://www.state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/parks/island.html; http://www.state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/parks/barnlig.html
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