Updated: May 5, 2021
Don't let the name confuse you. Monmouth County's only beachfront park doesn't have that much do with presidents. This 38-acre park between the ocean and Ocean Avenue in Long Branch is better known for surfing, skate boarding and a place for kids and families.
More than 50 years surfers have ruled (or at least been allowed)
It's hard to imagine a time when people routinely smoked and drank at the beach but surfing was banned because it was considered too dangerous. In the early 1960s, surfing enthusiasts discovered the large, long waves off the jetty at the end of Kiernan Boulevard in Long Branch, buet they weren't allowed to use what was then a private beach. They did it any way. Acknowledging the challenges of trying to keep surfers out of the water, the land owner struck a deal that would allow the surfers to lease the beach for $1 a year, under the condition that they would patrol the beach, perform their own lifeguarding duties and keep it clean. The cost of providing insurance to protect the club owner was covered by charging each surfer a $20 annual membership fee, a fair amount in 1965. Thus, the Kiernan Surfing Association was born. The Association has long since dissolved, but their legacy lives on. Monmouth County Parks continues to set aside part of the beach for surfing.
A block from the beach is the Skateplex which the County opened in 2005 and significantly renovated in 2015. Last year, a second skating area was added, making it one of the premier public skating parks in New Jersey. The two different fenced-in areas offer floating ramps, stairs, planters and stainless steel grind rails while incorporating the existing bowl. Experienced skaters or novices are welcome, but users under 17 must wear a helmet. Bikes and scooters are not permitted.
For the younger kids, Tony's Place is an award-winning, universally accessible playground closer to the beach dunes. It's a joint venture of the County, Challenged Youth Sports and Friends of the Park.
Did the Presidents vacation at this site?
They may have walked, rode or driven by the site, but none of the seven presidents who visited Long Branch stayed in a home, apartment or hotel at the site. Read more about the seven presidents in a subsequent story about the Elberon section of Long Branch at www.thecitypulse.com/jerseyshorewalk.
But Buffalo Bill vacationed here, right? No way pardner!
Buffalo Bill wasn't a fan of the beach and the East Coast per a letter to a friend in 1896, writing "...country is good enough for me -- Every mans (sic) likes are not exactly the same -- I expect." Bill's business partner in Buffalo Bill's Wild West, Nate Salsbury, however, was a prominent developer who favored Long Branch. In 1900, Salsbury built nine mansions or "cottages" on the site of Seven
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Presidents Park. It was called The Reservation and promoted as an upscale seasonal rental community. Eventually, the houses became run-down, and the city of Long Branch razed all of them except for one home that is used as the park's administrative offices. The County took over the property in 1977 to create its only beach park.
Bill did bring his shows to Long Branch on two occasions. On June 5, 1899, Long Branch was a stop on the tour of Buffalo Bill's Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World show at an empty lot at "Riverside and Atlantic avenue", presumably not at The Reservation or on prime beachfront property. A truncated version of that show, Buffalo Bill's and Pawnee Bill's Great Far East Show, arrived for one day on June 8, 1909.