Guided explorations can add to your enjoyment and understanding of the coastline’s natural and historic wonders, on land and on the water. There’s something here for everyone.
Island Beach State Park
CAN YOU KAYAK?
Get up close and personal with the waters around Island Beach State Park on a three-hour Sedge Islands Kayak Eco-Tour. The tour explores one of New Jersey’s largest estuaries, which flows adjacent to the state park. For this outing, paddlers aged 14 and up load into tandem kayaks in the Barnegat Bay and visit the Sedge Island Marine Conservation Zone as park naturalists talk about the historical and ecological importance of the bay.
The 1,900-acre conservation zone is an important stop along the Atlantic Flyway for birds and becomes home to a variety of species throughout the summer months, guaranteeing sightings of fan favorites like ospreys, egrets, herons, American oystercatchers and least terns. Paddlers can also expect to see a wealth of marine life in the shallow, brackish waters of the bay, including stingrays, horseshoe crabs, terrapins and a variety of fish.
Each tour typically includes a stop at one of the small islands, where paddlers can get out and explore. Here, the park naturalists demonstrate how to dig for clams; point out mud snails, hermit crabs and other marine life; and offer a bite of fresh sea lettuce for those curious enough to try. This is a good place to hydrate, have a snack and reapply bug spray before continuing on the tour to explore the marshes, which Kelly Scott, the park’s resource interpretive specialist, says “rival the diversity of a tropical rainforest” in terms of the variety of animal species hidden away.
The bay, says Scott, is an ever-changing, dynamic environment. As a result, no two tours are ever the same. On our outing, we saw a handful of diamondback terrapins, as well as two skates, stingray-like fish that swam within a foot of our kayaks.
“If your group is more interested in history, we’ll talk about history; if you’re more interested in birds, we’ll talk about birds,” says Scott. “What we do here is interpretation—we want you to experience the environment, and we’re going to give you some cool facts along the way… and then once you decide you love it, you’re more prone to want to protect it.”
Tours will be conducted this summer under social-distancing guidelines. Tour scheduling was not complete at deadline, but tours were expected to start by late June. Registration is $25 per person (plus park entrance fee) at islandbeachnatureprograms.org.—Breanne McCarthy
Cape May Trolley Tours
HISTORIC TREATS BEHIND THE GINGERBREAD
Anyone who visits Cape May is sure to be enchanted by the charming town’s wealth of preserved Victorian homes and B&Bs. But to fully appreciate the colorful history and architectural details of those treasures, a guided tour is essential.
Who would know that the bump outs alongside many of the homes were a message that the inhabitants had added indoor plumbing? Or that gardens were boxed so a Victorian lady could walk through without soiling the hem of her long summer dress?
Such are the morsels dished out on Cape May MAC’s Historic District Trolley tour. The curated tour crawls through the district’s narrow streets with experienced guides like Kathleen Familetti providing constant—and often witty—commentary about the gingerbread-bedecked buildings.
Passing the white-clapboard, vintage-1838 house known as the Wooden Rabbit, we learn it was the home of a whaler named Albert Henry Hughes, whose wife’s diary was later discovered. She too was “a wailer,” says Familetti, explaining, “she did a lot of complaining.”
Familetti distinguishes among the various architectural styles of the Victorians—from Italianate to Queen Anne to Colonial Revival—and the color schemes of the different eras. We learn that the Mainstay Inn on Columbia Avenue was a gambling house, and the Inn of Cape May on Ocean Street is an example of drunken architecture, where various styles collide on the same building.
The tour is a comfortable, 45-minute ride on an open-air trolley equipped with Covid-conscious plexiglass between the seat rows. Tours begin at the Washington Street Mall information booth and cost $20 for adults and $15 for children 3-12. You can extend the experience with a 45-minute tour of the Emlen Physick Estate, Cape May’s only Victorian house museum. Tours leave promptly; check capemaymac.org for daily schedule.
Other Cape May MAC tour themes this summer include the Ghosts of Cape May, the Underground Railroad and Mansions by the Sea, as well as the Physick Estate tour. You can also book a private guided tour in a four- or eight-seat golf cart.—Ken Schlager
Tuckerton/Beach Haven Ferry
A SCENIC TRIP TO THE SEAPORT
You can ride the ferry between Tuckerton Seaport and the LBI town of Beach Haven as a commuter, but you’d probably rather do it like a tourist, taking in the sights and sounds of Little Egg Harbor Bay. A guide narrates each scenic, one-hour leg of the round trip aboard the comfortable, canopy-covered pontoon boat.
Guests on one early-morning ride last year saw 18 varieties of fowl, including a peregrine falcon and bald eagle. This summer’s tour guides include Carly, an avid birder; Taylor, who studies anthropology at Stockton University; and Bailey, whose grandfather is a decoy carver at Tuckerton Seaport. “We like to think all of the ferry employees are a little salty,” says Brooke Salvanto, executive director of Tuckerton Seaport & Baymen’s Museum.
After arriving at Tuckerton Seaport, guests can participate in the new Self(ie)-Guided Scavenger Hunt; just pick up an activity guide and snap photos while exploring to earn a tour guide button.
Ferry capacity is currently limited to 10 guests. Masks are required; families are seated six feet apart from other families. (The boat and onboard restroom are disinfected between trips.)
The ferry runs three times a day (plus a sunset tour) Saturday-Monday, July 3-September 6; rides are also available Father’s Day weekend, June 18-20. Round-trip tickets, available at tuckertonseaport.org, are $12.50 each. Riders must be at least two years old; those 12 and under must wear a life vest.—Jennifer Finn
Salt Marsh Safari
SKIMMING THROUGH A WORLD OF AVIAN WONDERS
Erik Bruhnke’s enthusiasm for the natural world is something wild. “You’re in for a treat,” he advises the eight passengers aboard the Skimmer on this day’s Salt Marsh Safari ecotour of the Stone Harbor back bays.
The sightings begin within minutes of pulling away from the dock behind the Wetlands Institute in Stone Harbor. There’s a long-legged whimbrel, resting from his long journey south. “Just a few days ago, he was physically touching the arctic tundra,” Bruhnke explains. Here’s a snowy egret and a pair of little blue herons. “They’re uncommon around here,” Bruhnke says. “We’re really starting on a special note.”
More sightings follow in rapid succession. A flock of skinny-legged willets marches through the marsh. We spy an American oystercatcher looking for you-know-what. And there’s a flock of double-crested cormorants in mid-migration.
Bruhnke, a naturalist, enthuses about each species. Our captain, Travis Davis, a marine biologist, is more laid-back, but no less knowledgeable. He eases the 38-foot pontoon boat over to the tall grasses along the edge of the channel so Bruhnke can scoop up a bucket of water and seaweed. Within the web of spartina grass, Bruhnke identifies tiny grass shrimp, silversides and eel-like pipefish—all to the delight of the youngsters on board.
Cruising on, we observe a pair of nesting ospreys, a flock of herring gulls, and a belted kingfisher hovering in place against the wind. “That was amazing,” Bruhnke declares.
Davis beaches the nose of the Skimmer on a small island, where we step ashore for a brief exploration. Little fiddler crabs scoot about on the spongy ground, oblivious to our presence. Back aboard, we cross the Great Channel to Hereford Inlet at the north end of Five Mile Island. A massive group of black skimmers congregates on the sand along Stone Harbor Point. It’s an extraordinary spectacle. “Oh, my goodness,” Bruhnke exclaims.
Heading back toward Stone Harbor, we spot marbled godwits, a royal tern, a tricolored heron. Suddenly, Davis detours hard to starboard to pick up a plastic bag he has spotted on the water. Such bags pose a mortal threat to sea turtles. (“You’ve got to walk the walk,” says Davis, a dedicated environmentalist.)
Bruhnke augments the bird spotting with a “touch experience,” pulling little marine creatures—a sea star, a purple sea urchin, an oyster toadfish—from a cooler on board and circulating the live specimens among the passengers.
The trip fills a quick two hours. It’s one of Salt Marsh Safari’s several themed tours, including a Sunset Safari. Tours start at $30 for adults, $18 for children 3-12. The Skimmer, which can accommodate up to 29 passengers, also runs out of South Jersey Marina in Cape May. Check skimmer.com for a tour schedule.—Ken Schlager
HELP HOIST THE SAILS
It’s not hard to spot the A.J. Meerwald. It’s likely the only 85-foot, twin-masted oyster schooner sailing in and around the Delaware Bay these days. From now until late August, the Meerwald—New Jersey’s official tall ship—will carry passengers on multiple sails each week out of its home port, the Bayshore Center at Bivalve in Port Norris. Morning, afternoon and evening river sails run for two hours; start times vary. Prices start at $20 for youths and seniors. Longer specialty sails are also offered, catering to interests such as birding, lighthouses, and music and wine. Visit bayshorecenter.org for tickets and more information.—Andrew FarinaccioClick here to leave a comment