Diamond Beach: Controversial Small "Private" Beach. Who's Beach Is It Anyway?
With a total area of two-tenths of a square mile, you wouldn't think Diamond Beach would be under most people's radars. Along the beach as you walk south, Wildwood Crest blends effortlessly into Diamond Beach. There are a few small markers (pictured below) but they're not exactly helpful. Up ahead, there's a Diamond Beach lifeboat. The beach province seems to be clear. But it's not.
Diamond Beach is an unincorporated neighborhood of Lower Township. To many, it's a public beach. If you pay Lower Township taxes, you should have access to Lower Township beaches, right? Aren't all New Jersey beaches public except for coast guard stations and protected wildlife areas?
On the other hand, the big three beachfront properties at Diamond Beach -- The Grand at Diamond Beach, ICONA Diamond Beach resort and the Seapointe Village complex of condominiums -- plus nearby beach associations advertise these same beaches as "private". ICONA's website describes the property as: "...directly on one of the only private beaches in New Jersey. Also one of only a few hotels in the Wildwood Crest area open year-round." A press release on its website reads in part: "ICONA Diamond Beach has firmly placed itself as one of the premier Wildwood Crest NJ hotels."
So exactly what can you do or not do on Diamond Beach in Lower Township?
$700 a year beach tags, protests and police
Originally, the area was a bit of no man's land between Wildwood Crest and Two Mile Beach. But once development began in earnest, conflicts ensued.
In June 2002, according to a Cape May County Herald story, more than 200 people marched to a Raleigh Avenue gate blocking a stretch of private beach owned by Atlantis Beach Club. They requested access to the wet sand area under New Jersey's public trust doctrine. Most of the group had been paying $700 annual beach tag fees and were asking for “perpendicular access” to use the beach front. There was a gate blocking them from entering the beach from the road. The gate was removed after an appellate court ruled in 2005 that the public could walk freely from the road down to the ocean.
Further, the state Department of Environmental Protection required the owner of the club to lower beach fees that ranged from $400 to $700 per year for up to eight beach tags to $55 per season per person.
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Meanwhile, the issue of public access to private beaches had come up in other beach towns, notably Sea Bright near the northern most tip of the Jersey Shore coastline. The state's attorney general reached an agreement with six private Sea Bright clubs in 2010 to replace a 15-foot public access corridor with an "area encompassing at least 50 percent of the beach – up to a maximum of 150 feet", meaning you could plunk your beach chair in front of the club as long as it was close to the water line.
Police are called in 2021
The Atlantic City Press reported that over the July 4th weekend in 2021, police were called to the beach in front of the ICONA beach resort over an argument between resort staff and a woman who tried to set up a blanket on the beach club’s section of the sand. It was uncertain if the woman stayed or moved. No charges were filed. The township mayor said he believed that it was a matter of miscommunication about the rules governing beach access.
Using the beach today
The Lower Township Manager Mike Laffey confirmed that the public is free to walk along the beach and swim in the water. The beach properties allow access to their guests and also non-overnight people eating at the restaurants. Some may also allow access with a daily beach badge, but the information isn't readily available, so ask the properties first. The Club at Diamond Beach at the southern end offers a daily beach badge.
To simplify your life, why not put your beach towel or chair on the free beach at Wildwood Crest and walk along the water in Diamond Beach? No one will say a word.
Two Mile Beach is off limits for now
At the southern end of Diamond Beach is Two Mile Beach which is comprised of one mile of the Wildwood section of the Cape May Wildlife National Refuge and one mile of the U.S. Coast Guard's land on the northern end of the Cape May Inlet. Until September 30, the area is completely off limits to beach goers to protect shorebirds nesting.
How did Diamond Beach get its name?
More than 100 yeas ago, the name Diamond Beach was used to refer to beaches along the Delaware Bay in Cape May County. Overtime, that name faded away.
Meanwhile, the area between Wildwood Crest and Two Mile Beach was undeveloped. Up until the 1950s, none of the maps of the island that included The Wildwoods makes any reference to Diamond Beach or provides a name for the area.
The Cape May County Clerk staff assisted in uncovering the Certificate of Incorporation of the Diamond Beach Development Corporation from 1957. With the plan to divide the lots came the first use of Diamond Beach, a nod to Cape May "diamonds" or pebbles on the beaches in the area that are collected, cut and polished to resemble diamonds.
Note that the Wildwoods is a marketing short-cut to reference the communities on the island: North Wildwood, Wildwood, West Wildwood, Wildwood Crest, Diamond Beach, Two Mile Beach and the Coast Guard station at the southern tip. Also note that Wildwood Gables is not a separate town but a neighborhood of Wildwood Crest.
Tips for visiting Diamond Beach
What's New: Nothing new to report
Access and Parking: The main access to the area is from the Garden State Parkway on Wildwood Boulevard/State Route 47. As it reaches the island, Wildwood Boulevard becomes Rio Grande Avenue. Make a right turn on Pacific Avenue, continue through Wildwood and Wildwood Crest until you cross Jefferson Avenue. There is also access to Diamond Beach from Cape May and then south along Ocean Drive which turns into Pacific Avenue. Parking is free on most streets.
Beaches: Free to walk on the beach. Read about additional access above.
Follow Jersey Shore author and expert R.C. Staab as he recounts his 2021 walk of every beach along the 139 miles of the Jersey Shore coastline from Sandy Hook to Cape May. Read all updated stories at www.JerseyShoreWalk.com.