Doing your homework on access to beaches

BeachesThe Ocean County hamlet of Mantoloking offers a gem of a public beach. Just don’t expect a lifeguard. Or a shower. Or a changing room. Or much parking.

Don’t bring a picnic lunch; food is forbidden. You may drink, but drink cautiously. The nearest restrooms are at borough hall, and on weekends and holidays, the doors close at 2 p.m.

A beach badge runs an eminently reasonable 12 bucks for the season, but cheaper daily passes are not available, so unwary once-in-a-whilers could be in for a bit of sticker shock.

Those are some of the tidbits culled from the New Jersey Beach Guide, a compendium of useful information released by the state Department of the Public Advocate yesterday, the eve of the July Fourth holiday weekend.

The 41-page report charts costs, parking availability and what the authors consider benchmark amenities: lifeguards, bathrooms, showers and changing rooms.

All vary widely in the 48 beach communities along the Jersey Shore, offering different experiences and, in the view of department lawyers, different levels of public access.

“A day at the beach involves a little homework now,” said Brian Weeks, a deputy public advocate who oversees beach access issues in the department. “You have to do your research.”

The report, which can be found in full on the public advocate’s website, www.njpublicadvocate.gov, shows that while most communities kept prices level with last summer’s rates, 10 towns hiked either their daily, weekly or seasonal prices, in several cases by 20 percent or more.

The biggest hike came in Beach Haven, which raised its seasonal rate from $25 to $35, a 40 percent increase. A daily badge runs $5.

None of the communities reduced prices, and all have done away with resident discounts.

The survey found most towns charge between $4 and $7 for a daily badge. Nine communities charge between $8 and $12.

Atlantic City, Upper Township, Wildwood City and Wildwood Crest — all on the ocean — remain free. So do Highlands, Keansburg and Middletown, all on Raritan Bay.

New Jersey is one of only a few states in which towns may charge people for a day in the sun and sand, provided the cash generated goes solely to running and maintaining beaches. Communities in other states traditionally rake in fees for parking.

A bigger concern for the Public Advocate’s Office is the willingness of Shore towns to welcome outsiders. If beach badges are available to nonresidents, that constitutes access. But will nonresidents visit a beach that has no bathrooms, showers or changing rooms?

That’s the case in Lavallette, Beach Haven and Monmouth Beach, among others.

“What that means is that unless you live across the street, you’re not going to go there,” Weeks said.

He said the department ran cost estimates and determined showers, at the least, would be easy and cheap for towns to install, and all costs can be recouped through fees.

In Mantoloking, that’s not on the radar. Asked about the lack of bathrooms and showers, Mayor George C. Nebel said: “We’ve never given them any thought.”

He said outsiders are always welcome in town, noting that restrooms are available in borough hall, which he said was within walking distance of one beach entrance.

And it’s not quite accurate, he said, to say the town’s beaches have no lifeguards. They’re on duty at the Mantoloking Beach Association, a private group that sells badges to the public. The cost, Nebel said, runs about $350 for eight to 10 badges.

 

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