Lady Liberty and Barney Duke It Out, Vying for Geico and Coca-Cola Ads

By JAY MANN | Mar 06, 2019
Photo by: Jay Mann BIG-TICKET PLOVER DIGS: See Below

LIBERTY ISLAND OR LBI?: Which is New Jersey’s biggest state park attraction? That very question has led to some heated tourism-based debate. Many/most will say it comes down to Old Barney versus Lady Liberty. Go, Barney!

My read: I’m quite willing to have our treasured Barnegat Lighthouse settle for an impressive second-place finish. Even having it placed up there with the draw-ability of the celebrated Statue of Liberty roundaboutly indicates the profound top-tier status of the world-famous LBI attraction. Yes, it’s world famous. Ask anyone working the park about the assorted nationalities represented by visitors. Only Antarctica hasn’t been represented. Or has it? Email me.

Just last summer, when getting photos of beach plums growing beneath Barney’s beam, I met a hyper-nice couple visiting from Great Britain. Straight away I had to confirm that they really do pronounce it “al-u-min-ium.” Sure enough. After my giggling receded, we chatted about their visit. Turned out our lighthouse was the numero uno reason for their USA tour … “Despite the danger of coming to America.” I swear they said that!

After experiencing this sudden urge to look around just in case there was, in fact, some imminent danger from, maybe, someone perched at the top of the lighthouse, I found out their Barney sighting quest was motivated by “Big Bill.” That’s the nickname of their hometown Portland Bill Lighthouse, located in Dorset, England. It overlooks the English Channel. I quickly recalled the highly dedicated group of lighthouse fanatics, many of whom keep a strict checkoff list of visited beams.

After exchanging e-addresses, I had the honor of photographing them next to (their term) “Big Barney” – as a form of selfie-based proof that said site was duly visited and could be confirmed by a witness. They also took a quick pic of me as their “official lighthouse visit witness.” That’s a new one for my life resume.

Back to the Barney v. Lady Liberty saga, a tourism score card can’t be fairly filled out. While Liberty Island visitorship numbers are spot-on due to an easily tallied headcount based on the ridership aboard boats heading to the historic site, Barney’s voluminous flow of visitors is coming and going constantly.

Our state park does get a decently true count of the number of in-season folks paying to ascend Barney’s swirling innards, all 217 steps’ worth. However, there are many months when there is no charge to take the climb. What’s more, I’ll bet less than 10 percent of Barney visitors want to take the extra steps to get aerobically intimate with the landmark. Hey, by step 100, even the hardy of heart are sucking air. The British folks did make the climb, though the hubbie said, “We’ll stick with Big Bill.” That lighthouse has a mere 153 steps, which is right about where the killer burn begins inside Barney.

Now, onward to why I’m bringing up the visitorship to N.J. state parks. Should the state follow through with its planned privatizing of its parks, I’m betting big-draw Barnegat Lighthouse State Park would be seen as a 171-foot tall cash cow – a cow made of brick and legless, but quite cashy nonetheless.

Don’t be thinking such a sellout move from Trenton is unlikely – or something new in America. Many states have made such monetary moves with their parks. The practice came into being many moons back. Per backpacker.com, “Private enterprise has been part of America’s public lands since 1916, when Stephen Mather, the first director of the National Park Service, introduced concessions to the national parks. They’re now commonplace, from hotels and restaurants to buses and backcountry guides.”

I haven’t the space to get into privatization’s pros – business-based amenities enhancing the park experience – or its cons – businesses make loads of money while often piling maintenance costs on states/taxpayers. Instead, I’ll note Gov. Phil Murphy has any privatization profits already quite spent. They’re earmarked for the state’s $44 billion long-term pension black hole – make that red hole, as in the red. For me, it doesn’t get much more incongruous than selling parks to pay pensions. It’s borrowing from Barney to pay six-figure pensions to Peter and Paul, both retired superintendents. But I politically digress.

The New Jersey Sierra Club is understandably concerned over the prospect of private enterprise camping out in the state’s parks system.

“The state should not be looking at parks and open space as assets to fix their pensions. We are concerned that the potential lease or sale of these lands will break the public trust. They are owned by the public, for the public and entrusted with our government. This is our heritage, our legacy, and we cannot sacrifice that because of financial problems,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the N.J. Sierra Club. “Commercialization of our parkland will mean the loss of public access to parks and historic sites. Privatizing our parks could open up the land to any use, including pipelines and power lines. We need to keep the green out of Green Acres.”

The group knows of what it speaks, having fought privatization in the past. “We fought against a hotel, millionaire’s golf course and private marina at Liberty State Park. … We fought against a private food court at Island Beach State Park. ... Our parks cannot be sacrificed to corporate interests. This land is your land, not Marriott’s,” said Tittel.

Admittedly, it’s highly unlikely that the Lighthouse State Park would suddenly entertain, say, a miniature golf course. However, food enclaves, entry fees just to use the parking lot, hiked prices to climb Barney, badges to walk the jetty, BBQ area usage charges, angler-passage fees (to access the South Jetty) could all be on the monetization table. You’ll know monetization has taken full flight when the outside of Barney is emblazoned with a wrap-around Coca-Cola logo, or when Barney’s beam issues forth a laser-light Geico gecko upon the sky above.

Such monetization mocked, I’d be inclined to eagerly listen should a company want to use the state park to run a cross-inlet boat-taxi to transport some fine folks – an angler folk, in my case – to-and-fro from LBI to Island Beach State Park. “Taxi! … The other side, please. And step on it. There’s a bluefish blitz going on over yonder.”

OK, so that taxi-me-away concept might sound like I’d abandon my LBI mothership for greener fishing pastures north of the inlet. That’s not true! OK, so maybe it is kinda true, but I’d still be looking longing back across the inlet to LBI – as I unhook my umpteenth striper.

Less self-servingly, I magnanimously envision LBI visitors taking day trips over to IBSP for some funning, sunning, surfing, beachcombing, running, hiking, swimming, exploring, birdwatching, volleyballing, Frisbee throwing, sand castle building, sand crab digging … but that’s all that foreign land has to offer! I can assure that a company-run boat-taxi would make mucho mullah.

BIG-TICKET PLOVER DIGS: In a far more upbeat land-use vein, state-absorbed land just southeast of Barnegat Lighthouse State Park recently underwent a 42-acre clearing process. It’s the first phase of a unique effort to create the world’s most comely and valuable manmade piping plover haunts. The real estate is distantly related to the building of the New South Jetty.

The new man-made “Shorebirds Only” digs are massive – and ready for nesters. You could fit a couple football fields in the cleared area and still have room for tons of skimmers. Plover nesting season could kick off any day now, once the wings of early arrivers thaw.

The $150,000 project, done via the Army Corps of Engineers, was covered by the feds. The next phase, likely next winter, will include enhanced grading and the restoration of a relic freshwater pond. The state will pay that $220,000 tag, using monies from shoreline mitigation funds.

Flashing back, there was a freshwater pond in that general area going back many years. Historic mention is made of such a fen-like area located thereabouts. In fact, during the current clearing of the land, a small pond developed, either the result of recent rains or an indication of a quick-to-rise vernal/spring pond.

The cleared expanse is mainly meant to accommodate piping plovers, while not excluding other desirable nesting shorebirds, thinking in terms of black skimmers and, less likely, rarer terns.

To make nest-life perfect for plovers, there is a section of habitat strategically spiced with broken shells, essential to plover nests/scrapes. Also, there are wide openings through sand high points, allowing birds easy access to jetty-related tidal pools just to the north. Past nesting plovers have taken a marked liking to those high-tide pools, which offer plenty of fast-food dining.

The new sand territory also offers easy access to ocean-edge wrack lines, ideal for plover rummaging. The oceanside feeding zone has not been all that plover-popular in the past, possibly because previous nest sites have been a goodly distance away, more toward Barney. The new handmade habitat might coax nesters closer toward the sea – and farther away from the human-heavy lighthouse region.

Regardless of where the invited birds end up nesting, mankind will surely be mere steps away, drawn to the park and jetty area. I’m sure some fencing/posting will keep this perfect piece of bird beach highly restricted – as in off-limits, except to birds, possibly displaying tiny Barnegat Light Plover Nesting Beach badges. Hatchlings younger than five weeks old will be exempt. Hey, come on, this whole quite-cool concept should be a fun and educational thing.

In fact, just for kicks, I was tabulating the real estate worth of this piping plover parcel. Based on LBI land values, it wouldn’t be worth tens of millions of dollars … more like hundreds of millions of dollars. I’ll guesstimate that every plover nest this summer will easily be worth $25 million. Well-appointed nests could be worth twice that. Not many places in the world can boast “nests” of that value. That’s a feather in the project’s hat.

Note: One of the movers behind the habitat build, Todd Pover, senior wildlife biologist with Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey, will be explaining the project at the Barnegat Lighthouse State Park Visitors Center on Saturday, March 23, at 1 p.m.

WHEW … NO WORRIES THEN: Dipping into the super-fun read Tuckerton: A Newspaper History, 1852- 1917, compiled and edited by Steven Dodson (and available at tuckertonhistoricalsociety.org), I came across these worldly fish findings, i.e. “the general law,”  from the scientists of the distant day. Science is never wrong, right? Note the “climate change” angle. The capital lettering was part of the New Jersey Courier write-up.

April 2, 1908 – INVESTIGATING SCIENTISTS PROVE MAN CAN’T AFFECT SEAFISH SUPPLY/MANY YEARS STUDY IN NORTH SEA, LEADS LEARNED MEN TO EXPRESS THIS OPINION . In view of the long continued discussion in New Jersey, based on the belief held by many sportsmen that the fishes of the north Atlantic are being depleted by the ocean fisheries, particularly by the pounds, the following statement is of peculiar interest. The North Sea is fished as no other body of sea has ever been; yet the report of the scientists after years of study is that the fisheries have no appreciable effect upon the number of fish left. The general law was deduced from the astonishing wandering of many fish species that they can never be seriously affected by merely local conditions. The observers believe they have proved that the growth and productiveness of fish is (sic) subject to such a mighty natural influences, such as climatic changes in the various regions which they frequent, that they may be regarded as independent of the interference of the fisheries of man. It is certain that man has considerably reduced the number of plaice, haddock, cod in some waters, but not to such an extent as to have more than a temporary effect.

jaymann@thesandpaper.net

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