By Michele S. Byers
Labor Day usually means the end of the beach season at the Jersey Shore – our state’s 130-mile coastline, not the MTV “reality” series. But, in fact, the shore season is far from over.
For anyone who’s not wild about heat, crowds and traffic, September and October can be the best time of year at the Jersey Shore. The days are still warm and the pace is peaceful. The mix of salt air, waves crashing on nearly empty beaches and the brilliant angled light of fall is truly special.
But quiet isn’t boring at the beach! Without throngs of vacationers competing for elbowroom, it’s easy to be active. Consider these five great ways to enjoy fall at the shore:
Climb lighthouses. Check out New Jersey’s famous beacons at the annual “Lighthouse Challenge of New Jersey” on the weekend of Oct. 20-21. Visit 15 lighthouses, lifesaving stations and lighthouse museums from Sandy Hook to Cape May – and back up along the Delaware Bayshore – over the course of 48 hours. Souvenirs are given out at each site, and some lighthouses are even open for night climbs! For information, go to www.lighthousechallengenj.org/2012LHCNJ/Main.html.
Watch birds. The fall migration is the perfect time to scope out shorebirds like sandpipers, as they peck and scurry along the water’s edge. With a pair of binoculars and a field guide, you can spot gulls, terns, ospreys, sandpipers and more at just about any of our state’s beaches.
Cape May is the state’s undisputed birding capital during the fall migration. The New Jersey Audubon Society holds its annual Birding Festival from Oct. 26 to 28 at its Cape May Bird Observatory. To learn more, visit www.njaudubon.org/SectionCapeMayBirdObservatory/CapeMayAutumnBirdingFestival.aspx
Go surf fishing. Most beaches have no admission fees, and anglers are no longer herded into one small corner. Bluefish are plentiful early in the fall, and striped bass start their run a bit later. Even if the fish aren’t biting, casting a line into the surf is a relaxing way to spend a day.
If you’re feeling lucky, enter the annual Governor’s Surf Fishing Tournament on Sunday, Oct. 7, at Island Beach State Park. The angler who catches the overall largest fish wins the “Governor’s Award,” and gets his/her name engraved on the Governor’s Cup, which is on display at the park. Other winners in each fish species category win fishing equipment. For information and registration, go to www.state.nj.us/dep/fgw/gsft.htm.
Bike the boards. Most beach towns with boardwalks don’t allow bicycling during the tourist-packed summer months. But rules relax after peak season, and bicyclists can enjoy pedaling with an ocean view. Regulations differ from town to town, however, so be sure to check the signs at boardwalk entrances!
And if you want to wheel through a different type of sandy terrain, check out the annual Tour de Pines in the nearby Pine Barrens from Oct. 10 to 16. It’s a series of five non-competitive rides to highlight the sights of this unique and beautiful region just west of the shore. Go to www.pinelandsalliance.org/exploration/ todo/bicycling/tourdepines to see this year’s routes.
Explore waterways. The water is still warm, especially in the bays and estuaries. It’s a great time to kayak or “stand-up” paddle and view nature from a different vantage point. New Jersey has lots of small businesses that rent kayaks and stand-up paddleboards – and give lessons to beginners – so take the plunge. A quick Internet search will provide a host of options.
Fall is also a great time for surfing, as the waves are more reliable and fewer crowds fight for waves. Almost all local surf shops rent boards and provide instruction.
So check out our Jersey Shore during its second season! And for information about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, go to www.njconservation.org or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michele S. Byers is the executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.