Rise To The Challenge

Did you know that Sandy Hook has the country’s oldest operating lighthouse? Were you aware that the original Old Barney collapsed into the sea in 1856? Or that Absecon Lighthouse is the tallest along the Jersey Shore, with 228 steps?

Courtesy of Mike Boucher.

Learn even more about the majestic icons that have served as beacons for centuries at the tenth annual New Jersey Lighthouse Challenge. Thousands of New Jerseyans (and maybe a few out-of-staters) will fill up their gas tanks October 17 and 18 for a weekend of lighthouse hopping along the state’s coastline.

Run by volunteers from the New Jersey Lighthouse Society (which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year), the challenge opens eleven land-based lighthouses in seven counties to visits by the public. The stops along the challenge route (from north to south) are Sandy Hook in Fort Hancock; Navesink Twin Lights in Highlands; Sea Girt; Barnegat on Long Beach Island; Tucker’s Island in Tuckerton; Absecon in Atlantic City; Hereford Inlet in North Wildwood; Cape May; East Point in Heislerville; Finn’s Point in Pennsville; and Tinicum Island in Paulsboro. The museums at Barnegat and Cape May that house Fresnel lenses will also be open. There is no charge to participate in the challenge, but some of the lighthouses charge a fee to climb.

Personalized souvenirs will be available at each stop, and participants who collect all thirteen will receive a special memento. The organizers are keeping the trinkets a surprise; in previous years they have included stickers, baseball-style cards complete with lighthouses’ “stats” and antique photographs, wooden nickels, and buttons.

“My favorite was the puzzle,” says Barbara Steele, Ocean County Public Affairs and Tourism director and a challenge participant. “At the first lighthouse you received a photo of the coastline, but it looked like a piece of Swiss cheese with holes in it. At each lighthouse, you got a new piece to fill in the puzzle, so by the end of the weekend, you had a four-color puzzle put together.”

This year’s challenge includes Ludlam’s Beach Lighthouse in Sea Isle City as a bonus site. There will also be two pre-challenge boat rides on the night of October 16 departing from Keyport and Cape May to see New Jersey’s water-based lighthouses, as well as special night climbs (October 17) at Sandy Hook, Tucker’s Island, Absecon, Cape May, and Tinicum Island. A commemorative tenth-anniversary program will include lighthouse history and a collection of the various mementos of the past ten years. Proceeds from program sales will help fund this year’s challenge.

“We want to get people not only interested in the state’s lighthouses, but also aware of the important role that they have played in our maritime history,” says challenge co-chair Doreen Berson, a Brick resident who started as a volunteer ten years ago. She adds that the event draws all types of people, from families with dogs and infants to senior citizens to a group of Mustang enthusiasts.

Steele recalls that one year, “there were about 30 motorcyclists in line in their black leather garb, and right behind them a troop of ten giggling Girl Scouts.”

New Jersey can boast the first land-based lighthouse challenge. Maryland, Long Island, and Maine followed our model, but those close to the challenge claim that nothing beats the original.

“What’s nice about New Jersey is that you can start at either end and drive north or south along the coastline without backtracking and hit each stop,” says Berson. “When I first did the challenge, I saw places in New Jersey I have never seen before. You learn something new while having fun seeing some special places of our state.”

If you’re up for the challenge, visit njlhs.org.

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