Are the days of having at least some free beaches in New Jersey numbered?

With hopes we could see a normal summer in the Garden State and visions of heading down the shore for some fun in the sun, there continues to be talk about adding beach fees to beaches that have historically been free.

The latest is Strathmere in Upper Township.

Local officials will consider a beach fee ordinance that would go into effect this year. Strathmere would not offer daily badges, only seasonal passes at $25 each. Mayor Richard Palombo said the money is needed to offset more than $300,000 to maintain a lifeguard squad.

UPDATE: The Upper Township Committee voted Monday night to revisit the issue later this year, meaning no beach fees for this summer.

There was talk earlier of adding beach fees to perhaps New Jersey's most famous free beaches in the Wildwoods. In February, the mayors of Wildwood, North Wildwood and Wildwood Crest briefly considered adding fees to their beaches this year to pay for maintenance and lifeguards. The idea was short lived as members of the public, businesses and tourism groups shot it down for 2021. However, the issue is not dead.

Wildwood Crest Mayor Don Cabrea has suggested asking voters to approve adding beach fees as early as 2022. Wildwood has tried to add beach fees in the past but the issue was always scrapped. However, with rising costs, including minimum wage increases, it seems like the days of free beaches could seriously be numbered.

New Jersey has always had a love/hate relationship with beach fees. The money raised helps ease the burden on local taxpayers and can help to keep down crowds. But residents also resent having to pay to access a natural resource that is free to the public in almost every other place on earth. And as with almost every fee in New Jersey, the cost keeps going up. In the 1970s it cost as little as $2 to buy a daily beach tag. Today, it can cost $10 or more with season passes approaching $100.

The origin of the beach tag in New Jersey is a bit of a mystery. There was a time when there was no such thing. It's believed the first beach badge was sold in Surf City in 1967. It took almost a decade for another town to do the same. In 1976, a $2 beach fee was enacted in Long Beach after being narrowly approved by local voters. The rest, as they say, is history.

Beaches in 12 New Jersey tows remain free, for now. A list from New Jersey's official tourism site is below.

  • Atlantic City Beaches
  • Bay Front
  • Beesley's Point
  • Highlands Beach
  • Ideal Beach, Middletown Township
  • Jennifer Lane Bay Beach
  • Keansburg Beach
  • Leonardo Beach, Middletown Township
  • Strathmere, Upper Township
  • Union Beach
  • The Wildwoods
  • William Morrow Beach, Somers Point

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