Updated: Jul 28, 2021
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.
(From the vantage point of the beachfront or boardwalk, this is a breezy overview of what you see, where to park and beach access, plus a bit or history and the latest happenings. See map below.)
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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
The predecessor to the U.S. Coast Guard was the U.S. Life-Saving Service. Starting in New Jersey south of the New York Harbor, the Service was established in 1848 to build stations to provide "surf boat, rockets, carronades and other necessary apparatus for the better preservation of life and property from shipwreck on the coast of New Jersey." Brigantine station was built in the late 1800s, closed in 1946 and abandoned in 1948 according to the U.S. Life-Saving Service Heritage Association.
This winter's storms uncovered pilings and the foundation of the Coast Guard station. They serve as as ghostly sentries that remind us of the many lives that were lost along the coast.
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: This year, the remnants of the U.S. Life-Saving Station were exposed at the tideline as a result of storm about a mile north of where the refuge begins.
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.
This spring, summer and fall, follow Jersey Shore author and expert R.C. Staab as he walks the entire 139 miles of the Jersey Shore coastline from Sandy Hook to Island Beach State Park, the length of Long Beach Island from Old Barney to the Edwin Forsythe Wildlife Refuge, from Brigantine to Cape May.
Next stop: Brigantine at Jersey Shore Walk Mile post 76. See profiles of Barnegat Lighthouse State Park, every beach and town on the northern part of the Jersey Shore and Long Beach Island at www.jerseyshorewalk.com