The Official Jersey Bucket List

As we all continue to wait to be paroled from Coronavirus jail, many of us are making plans of what we would like to do once we are free to go anywhere and do anything. Well, this had me start to make a “Jersey bucket list;” all the things Jersey-related someone should do at some point.

I hope you consider checking out some of these ideas once we are turned loose. Whether you are a foodie, a shopper extraordinaire, or someone who loves the outdoors, there is something on this list for everyone.

Visit High Point: At 1,803 feet above sea level, High Point State Park is the highest spot in the state. High Point is also the highest peak of the Kittatinny Mountains. The view is simply spectacular, as you can see New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. The land for High Point State Park, donated by Colonel Anthony R. and Susie Dryden Kuser, was dedicated as a park in 1923. You can hike, swim, fish, and camp.

Hike the New Jersey Section of the Appalachian Trail: While you are checking out High Point, get on the Appalachian Trail. The “AT” as it is often referred to, is a non-governmental, independently managed recreation facility of the national park system and is the nation’s longest marked hiking trail at 2,180 miles. The AT runs from Maine all the way to Georgia. The New Jersey section is 74 miles long. If you are a serious hiker, many can complete the entire New Jersey section in less than a week. It can also be traversed in shorter day hikes. Hiking the Trail is a great way to see some of the most beautiful parts of the state.

Rutt's Hut

A typical meal at the Jersey famous Rutt’s Hut.

Complete the Hot Dog Trifecta: In Jersey we have opinions about EVERYTHING. Including who has the best hot dog. For many, it comes down to three: Rutt’s Hut in Clifton, Hirams in Fort Lee, and Hot Grill in Clifton. I know some who would argue River View East in Elmwood Park or Maui’s Dog House, North Wildwood. We certainly have a ton of great options!

Decide which is the Best Italian Hot Dog: Just like everyone has their favorite hot dog joint, there is always an argument as to who has the best Italian hot dogs. It comes down to two places: Dickie Dee’s in Newark and Jimmy Buff’s in West Orange. Try both and decide for yourself.

SunsetBeach

The rocks at Sunset Beach

Visit Sunset Beach in Cape May: This is one of my favorite places in the entire state. I could easily spend an entire day at Sunset Beach. Take the kids to play miniature golf, grab a bite to eat the The Grille, or do my favorite thing of all – dig for Cape May diamonds on the beach. The most touching moment of the day takes place as the sun sets. At the end of each day at Sunset Beach during the summer, make sure to stay and watch the flag ceremony. All of the flags flown at Sunset Beach are veterans’ casket flags that families bring with them from their loved one’s funeral. It is a truly moving event.

Shop the outlets in Atlantic City: As you leave Cape May, check out the great deals at the outlets in Atlantic City. From Calvin Klein, to Coach, to Cablea’s, there’s something for every member of your family. It is definitely worth the ride!

Visit Morristown National Historical Park: One of my first dates with my now husband was a visit to Jockey Hollow. It is a great place to see “where America survived.” The entire area is known as Morristown National Historical Park and includes multiple interesting places to explore and commemorates the sites of General Washington and the Continental army’s winter encampment of December 1779 to June 1780, where they survived through what would be the coldest winter on record.

Plan a Wine Tasting Event at One of Jersey’s Wineries: The Garden State is home to over 40 wineries. It’s history goes all the way back to 1758 when Great Britain’s Royal Society offered £100 to any colonist who would produce red or white wine “of acceptable quality,” meaning the wine was of the same caliber as that being purchased from France. While New Jersey’s wine history has experienced challenges, it is now flourishing!

Visit all of New Jersey’s Lighthouses: There are over 20 lighthouses still in existence in New Jersey and they are from the top of New Jersey to the bottom; not just down the shore. About half of those are open to the public.

Catch a Wild Brook Trout on a Dry Fly: When people talk about fly fishing they usually think of two things: Montana and the movie A River Runs Through It. What you might not know is that there’s plenty of great places to fly fish right in New Jersey. As someone who has been fly fishing for over two decades, there is nothing like catching a fish – any fish – on top water. To me, the most perfect catch is a native wild brook trout on a dry fly. For me that would be on one of four of my favorite dry flies: an Adams, a Royal Wulff, A Blue Wing Olive, or an Elk Hair Caddis. And not your standard 12 or 13 inch brook trout; a serious brookie. In case you didn’t know, the brook trout is the state’s official fish.

Go to Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart: One of the most beautiful churches in the state is the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark. During Pope John Paul II’s visit to the United States in 1995, he celebrated evening prayer at the Cathedral. At this occasion, the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart was elevated to a minor basilica to become the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart.

Enjoy Dinner at The Belmont: Growing up, I had two favorite restaurants: The Finish Line and The Belmont and I had favorite dishes at each place. At The Finish Line, I loved their zuppa di pesce. At The Belmont, I know many people go for Stretch’s “Famous” Chicken Savoy, but for me it was always their Scrod “Di Giacomo” Oreganato.  I haven’t been to The Belmont in a long time, and I am way overdue.

Lemonade and a Cheese Steak at The Midway: Like many others, I have great memories of going “down the shore.” I’ve learned your shore stop has a lot to do with you age. When I was a teenager, like many others, my stop was Seaside. A favorite practice of mine was to grab a cheese steak and lemonade at The Midway, sit on one of the many benches, and people watch. It was always fascinating. Sadly, Sandy and the boardwalk fire took away the “shore of my youth” as Governor Christie put it. What hasn’t changed is the opportunity for cheese steak and lemonade at The Midway while people watching.

Visit the Pine Barrens: The Pinelands is the largest remaining example of the Atlantic coastal pine barrens ecosystem, stretching across more than seven counties of New Jersey. Congress created the New Jersey Pinelands National Reserve, the country’s first National Reserve, to protect the area under the National Parks and Recreation Act of 1978. The reserve contains Wharton State Forest, Brendan T. Byrne State Forest, Bass River State Forest, and Penn State Forest. It is approximately 1.1 million acres and spans portions of seven counties. The reserve occupies 22% of New Jersey’s land area and it is the largest body of open space on the Mid-Atlantic seaboard between Richmond and Boston. The Pinelands was designated a U.S. Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1983 and an International Biosphere Reserve in 1988. It is also known as the home of the legend of The Jersey Devil.

I’m sure there’s a lot I am missing. What is on your Jersey bucket list?

The Jersey Shore, the Red Knot, and the Horseshoe Crab

While we have all been under lock and key for the last two months, something amazing has been happening outside. Nature has taken over.

Air pollution has decreased dramatically in the Northeast. Nests of the Leatherback Turtles in Thailand are at their highest levels for 20 years. Ocean life has increased due to the lack of global shipping activity. And depending on what you read, there has been an increase in red knot and horseshoe crab activity off the coast of New Jersey.

A recent article on Forbes.com reports that horseshoe crab and red knot populations have stabilized during the important spawning season for the crabs and the migration period for the red knots. Meanwhile, another article, this one from the public media outlet in Philadelphia, has reported numbers of horseshoe crabs and red knots have dropped precipitously this year.

I have not been to the Jersey Shore this year, so I can’t say which is accurate. It is important to remember, however, that the red knot and the horseshoe crabs are both important parts of the New Jersey ecosystem and the two species are intertwine at the Jersey Shore.

RedKnot

A red knot at the Jersey Shore. source: NJDEP Division of Fish & Wildlife

In 1999, the red knot was listed as a threatened species in New Jersey under the New Jersey Threatened Species Act. As a result of the Red Knot Status Assessment in fall 2006, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the red knot as a candidate for federal listing and the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada recommended listing the red knot as endangered in April 2007.

Each spring, red knots migrate from wintering areas as far south as the southern tip of South America, to breeding grounds in the Canadian Arctic; 20,000 miles round trip. The red knot is one of the longest-distance migrants spending over six months of the year migrating back and forth between wintering and breeding areas.

The Delaware Bay is an essential part of the red knot’s spring migration because it is the center of the Western Hemisphere’s only population of horseshoe crabs. Horseshoe crab eggs are quickly metabolized into fat by the red knots. That fat store allows these small birds to double their body weight in approximately two or three weeks.

The Delaware Bay is the last stop before they make their way to their arctic breeding grounds. The fat they add to their body mass by filling up on the eggs of the horseshoe crabs allow red knots to survive, continue courtship, mating, and egg laying until food becomes available.  Without a sufficient fat reserve, their survival is at risk.

So if you head to the Jersey Shore and see a red knot, consider yourself lucky. If you see a horseshoe crab, make sure it isn’t on its back. What is most important is that you enjoy them from afar whenever possible and know you are witnessing a unique relationship that only happens at the Jersey Shore.

Five Tips to Surviving Coronavirus – Jersey Style

So we’ve all been hearing about the expansion of the Coronavirus around the world on a minute-by-minute basis. A lot of people are in quarantine – either by choice or government mandate; others are following curfews. We are all social distancing and every school in New Jersey has been switched to remote learning.

For the next few weeks (or longer, possibly), what are we going to do? Here are five suggestions on how to survive Coronavirus with a Jersey flair.

  1. Binge Watch: There are plenty of great Jersey movies and television shows to watch while you are cooped up in the house. Need some suggestions? How about some of my favorite shows and movies with a Jersey theme:
    1. The Sopranos (I mean, do I really need to explain this one?)
    2. Cop Land (a great movie starring Sly Stallone)
    3. Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (when you need a good laugh)
    4. Eddie and the Cruisers (think Bruce in a movie)
    5. Garden State (a home-grown cult classic from Jersey’s own Zach Braff)
  2. Tick-Tock

    Coffee at the Tick Tock

    Grab a Bite: Even though we are no longer allowed to go to our favorite diner, you can still enjoy disco fries – just at home. Place an order to go bring home a hamburger deluxe or a TEC (that’s taylor ham, egg, and cheese for you non-North Jersey folks). Not only will you avoid cooking one night, you’ll be supporting small business owners in your community that need your help so they will still be there when life gets back to normal. My favorites? The Jefferson Diner in Jefferson, the Tick Tock in Clifton, and the Roxbury Diner in Roxbury.

  3. Go for a Walk: There’s going to come a point when we all need to get out for some fresh air. While some towns are closing down their parks, the Morris County Parks Commission still offers plenty of great locations to get out, stretch your legs, and clear your mind. They are keeping their website up to date with what parks are available.
  4. Turn off the News and Grab a Beer: While I appreciate the media working to keep us up to date on all the latest updates, over time it can really get on your last nerve (I know it is for me). Turn off the television and try and to get it off your mind. Enjoy a brew of the deck instead. I suggest picking up some Angry Erik.
  5. Be Jersey Tough: At the end of the day, let’s face it. There’s no one tougher than people from New Jersey. We need to put up with traffic on the Turnpike and corruption from our politicians. Not to mention all the abuse from residents of other states who think they know what New Jersey is all about. But remember, we know better. Just hang tough. It will all be over soon.

Giving Tuesday: Jersey Style

After Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday, a very important day in the holiday season takes place – Giving Tuesday. Started in 2011, #GivingTuesday is an international day of charitable giving at the beginning of the Christmas season – a time of year that has become all too focused on commercialism.

giving-tuesdayThere are a wide variety of worthwhile charities around the world. However, I would like to bring a few charities with a focus on New Jersey to your attention.

Arts Ed NJ: The arts are an important part of our culture. I regularly write about the importance of arts and music in school. I am the person I am because of the arts experiences I had throughout my public school education. Arts Ed NJ (previously the New Jersey Arts Education Partnership) was established in 2007 with the mission to provide a unified voice for a diverse group of constituents who agree on the educational benefits and impact of the arts, specifically the contribution they make to student achievement and a civilized, sustainable society.

New York-New Jersey Trail Conference: I love the outdoors. Fly fishing, hiking, nature photography – it is all important. After spending some time standing in a river or stream fly fishing, I feel renewed. Since 1920, the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference has partnered with and supported parks by creating, protecting, and promoting over 2,150 miles of public trails in the New York-New Jersey metropolitan region. Over 2,400 Trail Conference volunteers donate more than 100,000 hours of labor annually to keep these trails open, safe, and free for the public to enjoy. We also publish maps and books to safely guide the public through our trails. The Trail Conference is a nonprofit organization with a membership of 10,000 individuals and 100 clubs that have a combined membership of over 100,000 active, outdoor-loving people.

A Helping Wing Rescue: Recently, my husband and I lost our beloved cockatiel after 22 years. We couldn’t just throw out his cage, unused treats, and carrier. So we decided the best way to honor him was to help out a bird rescue and donate everything. When it was time to bring his things to A Helping Wing Rescue, we saw first-hand how much this team cares for the birds that live there. These special birds all deserve homes. But while they are there, their team can all use help they can get.

NJ Italian Heritage Commission: I am an American, a New Jerseyan, and a proud descendant of Italian heritage. New Jersey was a hub of Italian immigrants at the beginning of the 20th century and my family was among them. Although Italian Americans played an integral role in our nation’s development, many of their positive contributions are being forgotten and overshadowed by the unending negative stereotypes in the media. The NJ Italian Heritage Commission works to educate individuals about the important contributions those of Italian heritage made to New Jersey and America. It also works to promote Italian studies in school – an area of study and research that has continued to drop in recent years.

These are just a few of the worthwhile organizations in New Jersey. I hope you will consider them when deciding on where to make a donation on Giving Tuesday. No matter where you decide to donate, make sure it is something close to your heart. Also make sure it is worthy of your money. If you can’t make a donation, consider donating your time.

 

Planning on Fishing? Make sure to Get a License

Fishing season opens this weekend in New Jersey; a wonderful time of year! My husband and I just love getting out to the awesome open spaces all around New Jersey and fly fishing different fresh water locations. There is one important step many people skip, however. Buying a New Jersey fishing license.

Rockaway Borough

I can’t believe the number of anglers I see out fishing without a license. I also see plenty of people with their chum buckets taking tons of fish that shouldn’t be removed. Sadly, many of these anglers (and I use that term loosely) do not know the regulations, take whatever they like, and often, leave trash behind. When these locations are over-fished, it takes a long time for them to come back and get healthy again.

Every year my husband and I make sure to purchase our fishing licenses and display them properly as required by law when we are out fishing. We even purchase the trout stamp, even though we don’t harvest fish. Why you might ask? Let me explain.

The Division of Fish and Wildlife works hard to protect our open spaces, which includes stocking fish, checking licenses during hunting and fishing seasons, and offering education programs for adults and children. Fees collected from licenses help to continue the various programs conducted by Fish and Wildlife.

Conservation Officers are spread very thin throughout the state. It is on us to be caretakers of the resources in New Jersey.  If you see someone taking part in illegal behavior, such as poaching or other “wildlife crimes,” contact Operation Game Thief Hotline at 1-855-OGT-TIPS. If you see any ENVIRONMENTAL emergencies, call the 24 hr. DEP HOTLINE at 1-877-WARN-DEP.

And if you are going to go fishing, spend the money and get your license. Fish legally. If you see trash when you are out, pick it up and carry it out. Try and help out where you can and leave the space better than how you found it. Be a good steward of our open spaces.

“Down the Shore” – Part Three in a Series

If you enjoy Victorian architecture, beautiful sandy beaches, and not a franchise store in sight, I highly recommend you check out Cape May.  The entire city is designated the Cape May Historic District, a National Historic Landmark due to its concentration of Victorian buildings. You can enjoy a Kohr’s Brothers Frozen Custard while you check out the shops on the Washington Street Mall.

Henry Hudson, an English Sea Captain, first documented the peninsula that is now Cape May. It was 1609 and Captain Hudson was sailing his small yacht, the “Half Moon”, when he came upon a small peninsula situated between the Atlantic Ocean and the Delaware Bay. It wasn’t until 1620 that Dutch Captain Cornelius Jacobsen Mey came upon the same peninsula while exploring the Delaware River. Captain Mey named the area Cape Mey after himself; the spelling was later changed to Cape May. ¹

Cape May has catered to visitors since the 1600’s when Native American tribes summered here, but a community didn’t form in the area until 1685. In 1688, Quakers formed the first government based on strict moral order and Quaker piety. At this time a large whaling industry was beginning and many families from New York and New England, as well as a few original Mayflower families, were migrating to the area.¹

SunsetBeach

The rocks at Sunset Beach

Often referred to as “exit zero” on the Garden State Parkway, Cape May is actually an island right at the end of the state. I especially love Sunset Beach, home of the famous “Cape May Diamonds.” What are they you might ask? Well, you may not know it, but Sunset Beach is home to piles of amazing rocks, including quartz, which are made clear by the constant motion of the water as they move down the Delaware River.

Sunset Beach is also home to the USS Atlantus – The Concrete

Atlantus

The USS Atlantus

Ship. Due to a critical shortage of steel, during World War I, the federal government turned to experimental design concrete ships. An emergency fleet of 38 concrete ships were planned, by the United States Sipping Board. Only 12 of the concrete ships were ever put into service.² In 1926, the Atlantus was towed to Cape May. A Baltimore firm was attempting to start a ferry service from Cape May to Lewes, Delaware. During a storm on June 8th, 1926, the Atlantus broke loose of her moorings during a storm and went aground. Several attempts were made to free the Atlantus to no avail. It now sits in the water off the beach and can be seen during low tide.

At the end of each day at Sunset Beach during the summer, make sure to stay and watch the flag ceremony. All of the flags flown at Sunset Beach are veterans’ casket flags that families bring with them from their loved one’s funeral. It is a truly moving event.

As you can tell, I love going to Sunset Beach, but there are plenty of other things to experience in Cape May. Walking through Cape May is like walking through a Norman Rockwell painting. There are charming shops with lovely artwork, wonderful restaurants, and of course just walk down any of the streets full of beautiful Victorian architecture. I promise you, a day in Cape May is a day in heaven.

Sources:

  1. https://www.capemayoceanclubhotel.com/about-cape-may.php
  2. http://www.sunsetbeachnj.com/Things-To-Do/#Concrete-Ship

“Down the Shore” – Part Two in a Series

The Jersey Shore encompasses over 140 miles of beautiful coastline. Famous for its boardwalks, arcades, and amusement piers, each shore town has its own unique vibe. Seaside Heights, which developed a bad reputation thanks to a terrible television show, is popular with teenagers and young twenty-somethings, while Wildwood Crest is more popular with families. The shore region is made up to five different counties – Ocean, Atlantic, Cape May, Middlesex, and Monmouth.

Now I will say there is a “love/hate” relationship between the full-time residents of South Jersey and the seasonal visitors of North Jersey. Seasonal visitors, often called “BENNYs” (which stands for Brooklyn/Bayonne, Elizabeth, Newark, New York), are considered rude, litter the beaches, and generally act like idiots. As a life-long North Jersey resident, I’ve seen “BENNY behavior” first hand and it is embarrassing. NJ.com even posted an article awhile back about how to not be a BENNY. At the same time, however, the summer months play a key role in the economy of these shore towns by visitors spending a lot of money on vacation, which creates jobs,  generates tax income (via crazy parking costs and tickets), and other positive local contributions. When Hurricane Sandy destroyed many of these shore towns, BENNYs (and their money) were welcomed with open arms. Quickly, however, it returned to “BENNYs go home.” If you don’t act like an ass, for the most part, visitors are treated well.

If you ask most Jersey residents, North Jersey and South Jersey are practically considered two separate states, and at one point in history, New Jersey was two separate colonies. The so-called “Central Jersey” doesn’t really exist.

Nevertheless, the Jersey Shore has a fabled and rich history.

Many people today are unaware of the role New Jersey, and especially the Raritan Bay shore, played in the lives of many pirate legends in the late l7th and early I8th centuries. The waters between Sandy Hook and New York City were infested with pirates and French privateers. Blackbeard raided farms and villages near what is today Middletown, and Captain Morgan often visited the area.¹ To this day, there are many who still search the Jersey Shore for the hidden gold of these fabled pirates.

GATE-Sandy-Hook-Lighthouse-websmall

The 250-year-old Sandy Hook Lighthouse. 
NPS / JERRY KASTEN, Volunteer-In-Parks

The barrier island of Sandy Hook, part of what is known as “The Higlands,” has a long history that predates the formation of the United States. The oldest route to the eastern coast of the United States is the Minisink Trail which started on the upper Delaware River, came through northern New Jersey and ended at the Navesink River. Navesink means “good fishing spot” in the native tongue at the time. The trail was used by Native Americans, such as the Algonquin and Lenni Lenapi tribes. They came from all over New Jersey to spend the summer fishing and finding clams. The Newasunks, Raritans, and Sachem Papomorga (or Lenni Lenapis) were the most prevalent tribes and stayed the longest. These were the tribes which mostly traded with early settlers.² Richard Hartshorne purchased a 2,320-acre tract of land from the Native Americans which provided him with control of nearly all of Sandy Hook and Highlands which was then called “Portland Poynt.” Hartshorne and his family became the first permanent settlers of the area.² Built in 1764 to help reduce shipwrecks, Sandy Hook is home to the oldest operating lighthouse in America and a National Historic Landmark. A primary mission of the fort was the defense of New York Harbor. From 1874 to 1919, Sandy Hook also served as the U.S. Army’s first proving ground for testing new weapons and ordnance.³ The 1,665-acre area of Sandy Hook became part of the National Park Service in 1975 after the Army deactivated Fort Hancock. Today it is a beautiful area full of wildlife, historical buildings, great beaches, and of course that important lighthouse.

Before Atlantic City was known as “the little sister of Las Vegas,” it was known for its four miles of boardwalk, built in 1870. Since 1921, it has been home to the Miss America pageant. In 1853, the first commercial hotel, the Belloe House, was built at the intersection of Massachusetts and Atlantic Avenues.4

So as you can see, the Jersey Shore has a wonderful history. I hope you check back for my next post in this series.

Sources:

1: http://weirdnj.com/stories/mystery-history/captain-kidd/

2: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Highlands,_New_Jersey

3: http://www.visitnj.org/city/sandy-hook

4: http://www.cityofatlanticcity.org/about.aspx