Explore the Shore
Six beach parks you need to try
By Erin Bell

Think the only place to go down the Shore is the beach? Think again! SJ’s Shore towns offer plenty of parks and forests where you can get an up-close look at local wildlife while taking in a little history. (You’ll also get some great exercise.) So grab a map, binoculars and your sneakers, and start exploring the Shore.

Estell ManorEstell Manor Park

A visit to Estell Manor Park will take you back in time as you explore ruins of SJ’s past, including the site of an old Native American village, a 19th-century cemetery, Estellville Glassworks and a World War I munitions plant. The park’s 1,700 acres are also home to 20 miles of hiking trails and Warren E. Fox Nature Center, which offers orienteering classes for hikers of any experience level.

In addition to campsites, picnic areas and sports fields, you’ll also find docks at Steven’s Creek or the South River for fishing or kayaking. Stop by the nature center from 8 am to 4 pm to pick up maps. Borrow bikes, roller skates, compasses, soccer balls and volleyballs for free at the nature center.
109 State Highway 50
Mays Landing
Admission: Free
Park Hours: 7:30 am until dusk

LeamingLeaming’s Run Gardens

Enjoy 20 acres of landscaped floral gardens at Leaming’s Run in Cape May Court House. The gardens were created by the Aprill family (who own and operate the organic Thimblefull Farms, also on the property) as a peaceful reprieve from modern life. Pick a path and meander through 25 picturesque gardens, including a bamboo grove, a cinnamon fernery, color-coordinated rose gardens and a vegetable patch.

Every August, Leaming’s Run becomes home to ruby-throated hummingbirds, which feed on the flowers before they begin their migration south. In the fall, the garden transforms into “Screamings Run,” a haunted walk and candlelight tour of the woods.
1845 Route 9 North, Cape May Court House
Admission: $8 for adults, $4 for children under 18, free for kids 6 and under
Park Hours: Wednesday through Sunday, 10 am to 4 pm

Cape May Point State ParkCape May Point State Park

Before you hike through Cape May Point State Park’s 153 acres of sand and marsh, scope out your trail from the top of its 157-foot lighthouse (which was built in 1859 and is still operational). After climbing the 199 steps, take in the view of the surrounding Cape May peninsula. There is a fee to enter the lighthouse, but roaming the park is free. Nature lovers can watch hawks, sea birds and dragonflies. Monarch butterflies also migrate through the park at certain times of the year, and horseshoe crabs use the park’s beaches to come ashore and lay their eggs.

If you’re a history buff, head to the beach to see the remains of a bunker from World War II. The bunker was built in 1942, when the entire park was used as a military base. At low tide, you can see the turrets where guns were once poised to hold off enemy attacks.
215 Lighthouse Avenue, Cape May Point
Lighthouse Admission: $7 for adults, $3 for kids 3 to 12, kids under 3 are free
Park Hours: 8 am to 4 pm

Island Beach State ParkIsland Beach State Park

While Island Beach State Park boasts nearly 10 miles of sandy beach, it’s also a diverse habitat with dense maritime forests, rolling sand dunes and tidal marshes that are home to hundreds of animal and plant species. Every day at 11 am and 1 pm, park naturalists help visitors pull nets through the shallow bay water to observe the crabs, tiny fish and plant life that you capture (and then return to the bay).

Take a guided kayak tour or attend a historical lecture to learn more about the park. Birding expeditions are popular here too, as Island Beach is home to the state’s largest osprey colony.

Island Beach is also a hotspot for fishing – surf fishers and underwater spear fishers are frequent sights on the shoreline. Horseback riders are allowed on the beach from October to April. Scuba divers, sailboarders, surfers and hikers are also welcome in the park.
Central and 24th Avenues, Seaside Park
Admission: $6 on weekdays and $10 on weekends
Park Hours: 8 am to 8 pm

Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge

This isn’t your typical Boardwalk stroll – the Leeds Eco-Trail at this Galloway wildlife refuge takes you over thousands of acres of salt marsh, where you’ll see osprey nests. But ospreys aren’t the only bird you’ll see. The 47,000 acres provide shelter and food for fowl such as the rare Atlantic brant, the piping plover and the American black duck. Explore the refuge’s five trails to see how many birds you can spot – along with deer, wild turkey, muskrats and otters.

You can also get involved at the refuge as a volunteer. Tasks include leading tours, conducting wildlife population surveys, planting and other special projects.
800 Great Creek Road, Galloway
Admission: Free
Park Hours: Dawn until dusk

Belleplain_DSC_8048Belleplain State Forest

If you’re looking for thrills down the Shore, try the off-road vehicle park at Belleplain State Forest. Dart through the course on an ATV, then head over to Lake Nummy for swimming, fishing or boating. The 20,000-acre nature reserve also features playgrounds, sports fields plus 169 tent and trailer sites for overnight stays. Try hiking or biking on one of the many nature trails that wind beneath the forest’s towering pine, oak and Atlantic white cedar trees.
1 Henkinsifkin Road, Woodbine
Admission: $5 on weekdays and $10 on weekends through Labor Day
Park Hours: Sunrise to sunset

August 2014
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