The State We’re In column by Michele S. Byers, Executive Director, New Jersey Conservation Foundation
When you hear “down the shore” in New Jersey, you probably think of the Atlantic coast beaches. But this state we’re in has another coast: 52 miles of shoreline along the Delaware Bay in Cape May, Cumberland and Salem counties.
This other coast along the Delaware Bayshore has a slow and relaxed pace. It’s a place with wide expanses of marshland, quaint historic villages, uncrowded bay beaches, incredible biodiversity, and reminders of a once-booming oyster industry.
If you’re among those choosing a staycation this year, why not take an in-state road trip to explore New Jersey’s other shore?
The Delaware Bayshore is known for miles of salt marsh wetlands bordering the bay, which serve as a breeding ground for many aquatic species, including horseshoe crabs whose eggs lure migrating shorebirds each spring. It is also a stronghold of the greenhead fly, a species of horsefly that can deliver a painful bite. They peak in late July and early August and by the end of September are completely absent, so a fall visit is ideal!
Here are some great places to explore:
East Point Lighthouse – This picturesque lighthouse in Cumberland County, with its whitewashed walls and distinctive red roof, is the second oldest in New Jersey and the only remaining land-based lighthouse on the Delaware Bay. Built in 1849, the lighthouse has been fully restored and furnished and is a year-round museum. Located at the mouth of the Maurice River, both the lighthouse and grounds are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. East Point is famous for its spectacular views and sunsets, making it a destination for artists and photographers.
Bayshore Center at Bivalve – The Delaware Bay’s rich maritime history is kept alive at the Bayshore Center in Port Norris. Back in the late 18th and early 19th century, the Bayshore was home to one of the world’s largest oyster-harvesting industries – a source of incredible wealth for local communities. Sadly, a blight in the 1950s dealt the industry a severe blow. Today the Bayshore Center includes the Delaware Bay Museum, located among historic covered wharves that open onto the riverfront.
A.J. Meerwald – Did you know that New Jersey has an official tall ship? This 115-foot oyster dredging schooner, built in 1928, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1995. The A.J. Meerwald’s home port is the Bayshore Center at Bivalve, but day sails – open to the public – leave from several ports along the Bayshore. Be sure to check the Meerwald’s schedule to learn where the ship is docked and book tickets in advance.
Birding on the Bay – The Delaware Bayshore is a birding paradise, with over 300 species counted each year, including waterfowl, wading birds, shorebirds and land birds. It’s a critical stopover for migrating shorebirds, and each spring it’s the site of the second-largest shorebird congregation in North America. Prime birding areas include Cape May National Wildlife Refuge-Delaware Bay Division, The Glades Natural Area and several state-owned Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs), including the Dennis Creek WMA, Heislerville WMA, Egg Island WMA, Fortescue WMA, Nantuxent WMA, New Sweden WMA, Dix WMA and Bayside WMA.
Ride the Ferry – The Delaware Bay covers about 782 square miles! If you love being on boats and want to get a true feel for the size of the Delaware Bay, pack a picnic lunch and try a round-trip ferry ride from Cape May to Lewes, Delaware, and back again. Each 17-mile leg takes about an hour and a half. Advance reservations are needed, even for passengers not bringing cars. If you’re lucky, you might spot pods of dolphins or even a whale!
Fortescue Beach – If you’re looking for a beach far from the crowds, you can’t get much farther off the beaten path than Fortescue in Cumberland County. The beach offers expansive views of the bay, and is near the Fortescue fishing marina. Farther south, Cape May County also has many great bay beaches for enjoying nature and scenic views, including Reed’s, Cook’s, Kimbells, Norburys and Villas beaches. Some even have wildlife viewing platforms! The Bayshore faces west, so there’s no shortage of awesome places to watch sunsets.
The Long and Winding Road – If you want to see a bit of everything Bayshore in one long drive – historic sites, beautiful vistas and local attractions – try following the Bayshore Heritage Scenic Byway. It will take you about 116 meandering miles, from Mannington in Salem County down to the tip of Cape May. Check out the state’s website for directions and more information – https://www.state.nj.us/transportation/community/scenic/bayshore.shtm.
Get out and explore this special part of New Jersey, and you may find that staycations can be a lot of fun!