Sometimes the Garden State gets a bad rap.
Sandwiched between New York and Philadelphia, our state is often the punchline for some rather unflattering jokes.
Yet, every summer, thousands of frazzled urban dwellers flock to the Jersey Shore to escape the bustling grind of their city lives.
And although New Jersey has many fine beaches, Island Beach State Park is undoubtedly the glittering jewel of them all.
Most vacationers know Island Beach for its clean, white sands and unparalleled sport fishing. Two bathing beaches — complete with concession stands, lifeguards, and bathing facilities — make for a safe, convenient day of summer fun. If you've got a four-wheel drive vehicle, a beach buggy permit lets you cruise the 10-mile long beach from the comfort of your bucket seats.
And though the park deserves every accolade as a sun-and-fun destination, it offers much, much more for the discerning visitor.
Island Beach, with its fortress of dunes and rugged, hardy flora, is part of New Jersey's barrier island system. It plays a critical role protecting our inland communities and the Barnegat Bay from the sometimes angry Atlantic Ocean.
It has remained in nearly pristine condition throughout history, allowing us a glimpse of what the shore was like before human development and urban sprawl took over.
No matter what your interest may be, Island Beach offers a bonanza of subjects to satisfy your curiosity. Brimming with a stunning combination of native trees, plants and wildlife, it could easily be the envy of any park or refuge.
It is an important breeding and stop-over area for birds migrating along the "Atlantic Flyway." It boasts New Jersey's largest colony of ospreys, a magnificent raptor which rules the roost of the island's summer winged residents. The osprey population world-wide was nearly wiped out in the seventies due to the use of DDT, once used for mosquito control.
Cheery, colorful warblers, a myriad of waterfowl - even brown pelicans - and countless seagulls make the island their summer home.
Monarch butterfies can be seen dotting the skies in late fall, flitting through the salty marsh air and holly trees during their annual migration. Dolphins can be spotted arcing gracefully in the offshore waters, and harp and harbor seals are routine jetty sunbathers.
And, of course, there is the beach.
A sunrise over the Atlantic is an almost spiritual event. The calm morning ocean, with its golden waves gently rolling into the beige sands of the shoreline. Cumulus and high wispy cirrus clouds seem to hang motionless in the sky, a soft palette of oranges, pinks and purples.
Island Beach is special place, and a truly rewarding destination. Take some time on your next visit to explore its other natural treasures.
You'll be glad you did.