Imagine, a free beach in New Jersey. Better yet, in Ocean County. No beach badges, no parking meters, no badge checkers – and no lifeguards. Nobody combed the sand in the morning, or at any other time.
There it was, a reasonably accommodating stretch of sand just north of the Thunderbird Motel. The remains of the former occupiers were there in various stages of decay, demolition, and deportation. Resourceful evaders of the sand police found ways to pose as visitors at the T-Bird to park there, or in the lot between the paved passages of Route 35, coming and going. The water was no less inviting than that north and south of the remote outpost used by those who wonder, to this day, why New Jersey shore towns still extort millions of dollars every summer from those who pay to use beaches the public already owns.
It was almost like being in Florida, or some other coastal state, where no one cashes in on the crashing surf the way they do in New Jersey. Almost. Yes, the dunes were getting tough on the bare feet, what with all the broken glass from the beer bottles emptied after dark. It was the price of freedom.
Freedom's days, and those of the free beach, were numbered.
In January of 1984 Brick Township officials agreed to pay $1.8 million for 12 acres stretching from the ocean to the bay north of the Thunderbird. The property was owned by Flying W Inc. and included 600 feet on Barnegat Bay and 500 feet on the ocean. I walked the bay front there often. A twisted tree I found uprooted became a wonderful heron confidence decoy. The last duck decoy I found that eluded its owner and drifted to shore was a black duck by the Wildfowler Company in Point Pleasant.
There had been talk for years, five at least, about buying the property. When the contract was finally signed, Mayor Daniel F. Newman credited Brick Administrator Stephan R. Leone, Engineer Robert Chankalian and Attorney Joseph Foster for closing the deal.
The state was a willing partner in the effort to bring law and order to the dunes and bay front. It kicked in $837,500 in Green Acres funds and a state riparian grant for good measure. Seizing the moment, Newman responded by asking the state for another $1 million from the Green Acres fund to improve what would become Beach III on the ocean for Brick Township.
That request came after the town created new access to Beach I and sold three acres of Beach II to the New Jersey American Water Company for a storage tank and pumping station. Both were needed because the demands of development on the northern Barnegat Peninsula were creating water pressure problems. The town got $250,000 from the water company.
To help replace part of the land sold to the utility, in August, when the bonds for the beach purchase were approved, the township bought the Lake Riviera Beach Club property for $99,500, promising to clean it up and do an environmental study there.
What was is no more. The honest will admit that Brick has created wonderful recreational facilities on the bay and on the ocean. The nostalgic will yearn for the old days at the last free beach in Ocean County.