The Beachcomber

Get Your Motor Running: Campgrounds Offer Fun Alternative to LBI

By GINA G. SCALA | Jul 13, 2018

Summer fun at the Jersey Shore almost always begins and ends with sand, sea and surf. It rarely includes surf and turf, for most people, unless it’s dinner time. The truth is there is plenty of fun to be had away from the beaches. For those willing to think outside the box or to fuse the unique blend of sea and sand with the Jersey Shore’s other pot of gold, the Pine Barrens, there are campgrounds. And these are not the campgrounds of old.

“People want the comforts of home without the stress of home,” said Matthew Benn, whose grandparents started Long Beach Island’s Sea Pirate Campground in Little Egg Harbor Township nearly five decades ago, living in a popup while they renovated the building that would become their home. They did it with three children in tow.

And with a resurgence of interest in recreational vehicles, campers are getting those comforts at nearly every campground site. Touring Sea Pirate on a golf cart, it’s easy to forget Route 9 and the real world are within reach on 80 acres that includes pristine wetlands at the back of the campground, nestled between West Creek Dock Road and Dock Street in Parkertown as well as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge.

“I always bring people back here,” Benn said of the wetlands area, where the eye can see an unblemished sky, for what seems like forever. “In my mind, it’s the star of the show.”

Still, the real-world amenities are all there for the taking. From six different types of cabins, some luxury and some traditional bare bones, to nearly 270 camper sites (think tiny homes, though some of the campers aren’t very tiny, with all that outdoor living space) to some tent sites, there is something for everyone.

If kicking back and relaxing isn’t inviting, a short walk or golfcart ride brings any number of fun things to do at the indoor activities center (bingo, anyone? or maybe arts and crafts is more your thing), dog park, sports field, pool (bluest pool water ever) – or maybe hunger is winning out. There’s a quick-bite restaurant on site as well as a store, making the campground self-sustaining.

From the end of April through Labor Day weekend, the campground hosts themed weeks including Celebrate America Week, Christmas in July Week, Wild West Week and Wet and Wild Week. In the fall, the celebrations are shortened to 72 hours of fun, including Crabfest Weekend, Family-Friendly Halloween Weekend and Haunted Hayride Halloween Weekend.

Even with all that, Long Beach Island calls to seasonal and transient (weekly) campers, mostly 25- to 40-year-olds with families.

“It’s still one of our biggest draws,” Benn said. And why not? The barrier island is one right turn onto Route 9 north, a slight turn onto the Route 72 East ramp and Long Beach Island is about 5 miles straight ahead.

Ah, LBI, that sandbar of tranquility individuals and families from all over want a slice of during the summer. Except, it seems, for those who leave behind their Island homes for the off-the-beaten path, peaceful reprieve from the crowds and the heat at the Long Beach RV Resort and Campground, tucked away just off Route 72 in Barnegat Township.

“We have some campers who live on the Island in the offseason, rent their homes for the summer and live here,” said Janet Frank, who manages the site, located less than 12 miles from the sandy beaches of LBI on more than 44 acres of Pine Barrens. “We also get families and retirees who are touring the country or visiting their family.”

The RV resort, the only one of its kind in the immediate area, offers 225 sites with water hookups, grills, campfire rings and picnic tables, Frank said. There is a jump pillow (an outdoor version of a bouncy house), along with an18-hole mini-golf course, playground and pool.

“Parents ask me not to give their kids the Wi-Fi password,” Frank said, adding others always tell her that the campground is the only place their kids stop using technology and are active outdoors. “There always seems to be kids walking to or from some activity.”

Basketball and shuffleboard are among the recreational activities that are offered, along with an arcade, bingo and other indoor events, Frank said. The campground also hosts Movie Night and pajama parties for campers.

“We also have laundry facilities, a dog park and a dump station,” Frank said, stopping to retrieve community mail from campers who need use of the portable dump station. “We don’t have city water or sewer.”

That doesn’t matter much to the family-friendly community, which was a mom-and-pop business from 1978 until 2004, when it was sold to a corporation. Sun Resorts took over in 2015 and has sunk money into the resort for upgrades, according to Amy Shen, the office manager, whose parents live across the street and who never knew the campground existed until she was offered a job there.

At the end of the day, the campers all agree on one thing, Frank said: Quiet time is important. That means after 11 p.m. neighboring campers shouldn’t be able to hear music, talk or even laughter from another site. It doesn’t mean lights out, she stressed, only that everyone is mindful of everyone else.

That is second nature at Bakers Acres in Little Egg Harbor, the campground located in, of all places, a residential area tucked off Route 9 and not far from Sea Pirate Campground. The area wasn’t residential when the campground was built, but there are homes along a stretch of road across from it. Still, entering the 60-acre, family-owned site (Anne Baker, who founded the campground with her husband, Reds, in the 1960s, still drives a golf cart around the site), feels like stepping into another world where noise isn’t an issue.

The site offers more than 300 large, leafy campsites of mountain laurel at the edge of the Pinelands with seasonal activities and recreational amenities. It offers a large swimming pool, arcade room, playground, ballfield, bocce ball courts, volleyball and horseshoes as well as free Wi-Fi, a free DVD and video library, a convenience store with RV and camping supplies, a laundromat and free hot showers.

“Millennials want an experience and not a purchase,” Monica Baker-Frazier, third-generation manager of the campground, said of the revitalization of the industry, adding families want to spend time together without distractions; campgrounds have something for everyone. “The demographics has shifted.”

Surprisingly or not, single women and widows are a large part of the clientele at the campground, she said.

“They want their own space, and they want to sit at night and feel like their kids are safe,” she said, noting this summer they will be introducing a glamping tent for those who want to experience the primitive without sacrificing the comforts of home.

While there continues to be a market for destination weddings and vacations, travel has changed for many. The idea of a carbon-copy, one-size-fits-all vacation isn’t as enticing as making it up on the go.

“You have the opportunity to go and come back,” said Heather Thivierge, a Long Beach Island region local who spent eight summers in campgrounds around the country when her children were younger, “but you don’t have to leave if you don’t want to. It’s the best of both worlds.”

Thivierge and her husband are making the LBI Resort and Campground off Route 72 their summer home. She said having the Pine Barrens and access to the Island and all its offerings, especially the sandy, white beaches, is ideal.

“You don’t have to spend a lot of money to enjoy Long Beach Island,” Thivierge said, noting her kids, all in their 20s, “always tell me camping was the best time of their lives.”

Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.