My uncle was visiting from Montana. They don’t have an ocean there, so off we went to ours. I picked a beach destination I’d never been to before even though it’s the closest public beach to my house. Sandy Hook, which is part of the Gateway National Recreation Area, is so popular that on a hot summer day the parking lots are often full by mid morning–that popularity is one of the reasons I’ve never gone. I was in for a very pleasant surprise.
Located less than 25 miles from Manhattan, Sandy Hook has a seven mile stretch of beach that is home to more than 300 varieties of migratory birds. Posted many places on the island were ‘wanted’ posters offering a $4000 reward for information about the wanton destruction of an active plover nest earlier in the summer. It’s wise to stay on the paths here. There’s rampant poison ivy, that without really knowing it, I suspect provides food for birds and protects them from human intrusion.
Sandy Hook also boasts the country’s oldest lighthouse–still in operation–as well as an active Coast Guard base. I wasn’t expecting the military presence on a trip to the beach. Fort Hamilton is on the northern end of the island as is an old growth holly forest and there were several missile and cannon displays as well as an abandoned gunnery built in 1902. While exploring the ghostlike abandoned gunnery and adjacent wildlife management area, we could hear the pop of rifle practice in the background. Long a strategic and practical entry point to the New Jersey/New York shipping lanes, Sandy Hook is an odd combination of historical, military/industrial and natural.
Fort Hamilton’s boarded up and tumble down historic buildings are slated for development through a public/private partnership.
But back to the beach…there’s a dog friendly beach, designated areas for fishing sensibly away from bathing beaches, a clothing optional beach (and this is a National Park) as well as beautiful clean and sandy family beaches. A very active bike lane runs the length of the island.
The day we went was hot and sunny and the wind was from the west so the water was relatively calm. This is not a big surf beach. Despite the westerly breezes, there weren’t any insects like those that sometimes plague Long Beach Island, but Sandy Hook’s water isn’t as clear as it is in southern New Jersey. The beach was cleaner–this park is serious about taking your garbage with you.
Notice that there’s almost no blown about trash on these dunes–and look how many people use this beach on a weekday. It’s quite remarkable.
When I started extolling the virtures of ‘My Garden State’ earlier this summer, I had no idea that I’d be introduced to someplace as uniquely New Jersey as Sandy Hook. Go if you can.