Back in the freezing weather of January, I shared my goals for 2022. One of the most important goals outlined was to fight for our ever-dwindling open spaces in New Jersey. That includes fighting for those who share the love of the outdoors and educate others about the resource.
Enter the frustrating situation of the Sunset Beach Sportsmen’s Club.
Located in one of my favorite spots in New Jersey, Sunset Beach, Cape May, the Sunset Beach Sportsmen’s Club has been meeting and sharing their love of fishing and the outdoors since the mid-1940s. What started as a few friends meeting at a private home in the Philly-area has turned into a decades-old club that has officially met at Sunset Beach since the 1950s.
They function as a non-profit, providing camaraderie and community to a group of local anglers. They have a great little meeting space next to the miniature golf course at Sunset Beach. It sounds like a really wonderful group of anglers who enjoy the outdoors and telling fishing stories.
So what’s the problem? Glad you asked.
Their building is located on the grounds of a former brick plant. When the plant closed in 1982, the owners leased the land to the club. In 1999, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Fish and Wildlife purchased the land from the plant owners and added it to the adjacent Higbee Beach Wildlife Management Area.
So they own the building, but they do not own the land underneath it. It is also worth mentioning they have paid taxes to Lower Township since 1957.
OK, so sounds like typical bureaucracy so far. Annoying, but not horrible… yet.
Well, here’s where it gets complicated. And frustrating.
The NJ Department of Fish and Wildlife sent a letter in February announcing plans to terminate the club’s lease agreement. The “Notice to Quit and Demand for Delivery of Possession of Premises” notes that if not followed, the state could file for eviction action. The letter outlined a list of reasons, which include “the sale of alcohol on a Wildlife Management Area without the prior written permission or other authorization from the (state), the club’s ‘interference’ with the National Coastal Wetlands Grant and the club’s use of the property being ‘inconsistent’ with the Division of Fish and Wildlife’s mission.”
Yes, they drink the occasional beer at the end of a day fishing. Pardon me while I clutch my pearls. I really hope my Jersey sarcasm is coming through loud and clear.
Whether the state owns the land beneath the club remains in dispute, according to Chris Gillin-Schwartz, Sunset Beach Sportsmen’s Club’s attorney.
It is worth mentioning, letters have been sent on letterhead from The DEP, New Jersey Fish and Wildlife, and the United States Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service. Tremendous pressure has been put on Lower Township to not renew the liquor license the club has possessed (in good standing) since 1976. I applaud Lower Township for standing up to the state and renewing their license.
This is a club that has served the community and its membership since the 1940s. They currently have 160 members (over 50 of which are veterans) and are good stewards of the resource. I feel like there’s more going on than the state wishes to share.
Now in all fairness, I reached out to New Jersey Fish and Wildlife, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, and the Governor’s office. I received no response whatsoever. Not even a “no comment.” Total radio silence.
I promised my readership to fight for our great state and its wonderful resources. The Sunset Beach Sportsmen’s Club does the same. They work for their community and work to preserve the resource. I urge my readership to sign their online petition. I also urge you to reach out to the Governor’s office and let your voice be heard. Why the state is making a (literal) federal case out of a local fishing club is beyond me. I promise all of you to stay on this story and hope for a positive outcome.