Monday, April 19, 2010

Sandy Hook . . .

Every summer we make the trek to the New Jersey Shore for a week of sun, beach going and "boardwalking".  Last year we made a day trip to Sandy Hook, which is part of the Gateway National Recreation Area ("GNRA").  The GNRA covers 26,607 acres in four separate areas:  Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island, New York and the area we visited in Monmouth County, New Jersey.

Sandy Hook is a 7-mile long barrier island that contains three beaches (with one of the beaches being "clothing optional"), a lighthouse, Fort Hancock (a former Army fort which was built to defend the entrance to New York Harbor and was in use from 1874 until 1974), and a fully-operational base for the U.S. Coast Guard.  It is ideal for nature lovers as it is home to many species of birds, and is intertwined with paths that are ideal for walking and biking.
Gun battery at Fort Hancock

Because of its strategic location, Sandy Hook Lighthouse was built to help ships entering New York Harbor.  Built in 1764, it is one of the oldest operating lighthouses in the United States, and has survived the elements and a brief occupation by the British during the Revolutionary War.  It stands 85 feet and is almost one and a half miles (2.4 km) inland from the tip. Sandy Hook Lighthouse is part of the Sandy Hook Unit of  Gateway National Recreation Area.  It was declared a National Historic Landmark on the 200th anniversary of its first lighting. 

Outside view of the lighthouse and keeper's cottage

Climbing to the top of the lighthouse

The light itself was automated in 1962 and is currently operated by the National Park Service.  On a clear night, the light is visible from 19 miles out to sea.  The day we visited we got a rare treat as the light was inoperable.  Something had gone wrong with it the previous evening, the staff was waiting for a specialized repair crew to come in from New York City to repair it; we were able to closely view its inner workings.

The lighthouse building was restored in 2000, and is filled with exhibits about the history of the light.  Tours are available with a park ranger; as the lighthouse is small it is rather tight quarters at the top but the view is worth it!

View toward Gunnison Beach (clothing optional beach)

The one downside to Sandy Hook was the swimming.  The beaches are large, well-kept and offer stunning views of the ocean and the shipping lanes into New York Harbor.  Because of their close proximity to a large urban area, the water was not as clean as we would have liked; but the surf was high and the kids thought it was great (my husband was less than enthusiastic about it - and I didn't even go in).  There are large bathhouses complete with bathroom and shower facilities (very clean) and a large snack bar.

If you find yourself in New Jersey on a warm summer day, plan a visit to Sandy Hook to view the lighthouse and the other historic venues.  We were fortunate to be able to visit on a weekday - on weekends the parking lots fill quickly, and because it is a barrier island there is only one road in and out, which can create serious traffic jams in the summer months!

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