Want to really escape at the Jersey Shore? Want to see the New Jersey coastline as sailors and fishermen might have seen it for hundreds of years? Visit North Brigantine. Walk north until humanity fades away. It's just you, the seagulls, the dunes and the ocean. And the greenhead flies so spray on Skin So Soft first.
With almost 10 miles of beach, Island Beach State Park has a longer coastline than the North Brigantine coastline. However, almost the entire length of the Island Beach Park is bisected by a road which gives easy access to almost two dozen parking lots. Literally thousands of people access the beach on the weekend.
In North Brigantine, the town ends at 15th Street North but the city's beach continues for about a half a mile. This section allows dogs and vehicles (and bikes), so it can be very busy especially in the morning. (See Brigantine story here.)
Soon, you reach the beginning of the wildlife area that's part of the Bass River State Forest (many miles inland), which is part of the New Jersey State Park Service. It's unrelated to the Edwin Forysthe National Wildlife Refuge which covers the uninhabited islands immediately north of Brigantine. But the large area of the Great Bay and Barnegat Bay that includes Holgate Beach Wilderness area on Long Beach Island (See story here.) works together with the state to protect wildlife, particularly New Jersey shorebirds.
There are numerous signs, including "No Dogs" and "Welcome," so you'll know you're there.
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The first mile of the wildlife refuge permits 4x4 vehicles so you'll seeing fishermen here and there. Then, you reach a point where vehicles are prohibited. It also happens to be the point, where early this year....
Remnants of the U.S. Life-Saving Station uncovered
Before there was the United States Coast Guard, there was the United States Life-Saving Service. In 1848, NJ Congressman William Newell advocated for a law to establish eight unmanned lifesaving stations from Sandy Hook to Long Beach Island (although a Brigantine station was built at the same time in 1849) to provide "surf boat, rockets, carronades and other necessary apparatus for the better preservation of life and property from shipwreck". By 1878, the volunteer life-saving role was assumed by a new federal agency, the Life-Saving Service, which refurbished, replaced or built 40-plus stations from Sandy Hook to Cape May and many more along the nation's coastlines including ta north Brigantine station
Winter storms from 2021 uncovered pilings and the foundation of the the Life Saving Service station that was built here in 1899. The station was built on wooden pilings driven into the sand. According to a Coast Guard historian, the brick/mortar remains are probably from one of the station's outbuildings, such as a cookhouse where the meals were prepared. During WWII, the Brigantine station was the site of a large training facility for Coast Guard beach patrolmen, including horses (for horseback patrols) and dogs (for patrols on foot). As such, the site also had a kennel and a large stable for the animals.
The station was destroyed in the 1944 hurricane. The piling and brick remains are ghostly sentries telling tales of the many lives that were saved and lost along the coast. (see photo below)
From 1871 through 1914, the Service aided 28,121 vessels, and rescued or aided 178,741 persons. It's unofficial motto: “Remember, you have to go out, but nothing says you have to come back.”
The Piping Plovers -- again!
Beyond the remnants of the life-saving station, no vehicles are permitted in the summer because of piping plover nests. (See below.)
At first, it seemed like a mystery to me why vehicles couldn't avoid the nests which are set up on the dunes. It became clear that the high tide mark essentially eliminated any easy access for vehicles without driving into the dunes.
The northern part of the beach is wide and long. It's an exceptional part of the Jersey Shore that people don't typically visit because it's six miles round trip. It's truly worth the hike.
But there are always reminders of civilization even at the northern tip.
Tips for visiting the North Brigantine Wildlife Refuge
What's New: Nothing new.
Access and Parking: Drive north of Brigantine Avenue to 14th Street. Parking is free along Brigantine Avenue and most streets.
Amenities: None in the wildlife area but there's a shower nearby in Brigantine.
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.