There’s Plenty to Do Once Cold Weather Sets In

How to Stay Busy and Sane in the Long Months
By JON COEN | Jan 10, 2018
Photo by: Ryan Morrill Wells Mills County Park, part of the Ocean County Parks Department, about 5 miles west of Route 9 in Waretown.

This fall was nearly perfect. If you’re more interested in bird watching than binge watching, strolling than scrolling and enjoy actual face-to-face communication over screen time, it was about the best season in modern history. The weather was pretty much ideal for every event and form of recreation.

But the unseasonably warm season couldn’t hang on forever. That influx of visitors has slowed to a trickle, and soon the only sound will be the wind whipping off the bay. Winter is here, and temps have been pretty standard, with a few bonus snowfalls even before the winter solstice.

Keeping busy in December is easy, especially for families. Everywhere you turn, there’s some sort of holiday happening. Life’s just better with sugar cookies. But as the lights come down and wintry weather loses its hot-cocoa novelty, finding winter activities becomes tougher. And for parents looking at the reality of four months of cold and/or wet, finding something to do becomes priority number one.

Here are a few options to get you out of the house right here in our area.

Science Saturdays. Science never goes out of style. No matter how much our world changes, we all have an urge to learn about wildlife, geology, weather and the ecosystem. And when the science is based on the environmental and sustainability issues that directly affect our shore community, beaches and bay, it’s far more interesting.

The Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts and Sciences offers Science Saturdays, weekly symposiums that are hands on, with presenters being experts in their fields and mostly local. Learn about our area’s shellfish, birds of prey, coastal resiliency, striped bass, turtles, green homes, local weather, cooking seafood that is caught commercially in our waters, and shark tracking in this program that runs from Jan. 13 through April 28. Some are particularly kid-friendly. These are free to members and $5 for non.

Butterfly Stroke. For a good four months here, life revolves around the water – swimming, surfing, sailing, fishing and everything else we do on our beach and bay. And even if you’ve got that trip planned to Florida or the Caribbean, it’s a lot of time to be out of the water.

Of course, there are plenty of locals who have full winter wetsuit gear for surfing, paddling, kiteboarding, etc. But for those who don’t, or don’t want to wrestle into their 5-millimeter rubber every day, there are the pools at St. Francis Center in Brant Beach and Meridian Fitness & Wellness in West Creek. Swimming provides fantastic cardio through the winter months with limited impact on the joints. Great for toning muscle, too. It’s also a fantastic way to make kids more comfortable in the water so they’re fully ready (and safer) for summer fun.

You needn’t be a member of either to use the pool. Meridian has a wide-open schedule, 4:30 to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends. For nonmembers, it’s $10 if you’re with a member, $20 if not.

St. Francis’ pool is open 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends. For nonmembers, it’s $10 to swim or $5 per visit when buying five passes.

Take a Hike. There’s a thing called forest bathing now. Maybe this doesn’t sound as sexy, but it was formerly referred to as “hiking.” (The “H” is not silent.)

About 20 minutes from the Causeway Bridge in any direction, you can lose yourself in the Pines. One of the best spots, however, is Wells Mills County Park, part of the Ocean County Parks Department, about 5 miles west of Route 9 in Waretown. Probably anyone who goes to Wells Mills thinks, “Why don’t I come here more often?”

With 900 acres of wilderness, about 15 miles of varied hiking trails and a visitors center, it’s really a gem in our backyard. The trails explore white cedar swamps and even have some (relative) elevation at Laurel Hill. It’s ideal for trail running and wildlife watching, and there are specific trails for mountain biking.

There’s a lot less wind in the woods than in neighborhoods or the Island, and Wells Mills is absolutely stunning with a couple inches of snow.

Make Something. Like, besides a snow fort.

Learn to make Stained Glass Star Sun Catchers at SwellColors on Tuesdays at 1 p.m. Every Friday night from 7 to 9, the Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts and Sciences hosts Canvas & Cocktails with Abby, as well as a host of other art-related endeavors through the week. On Sunday, Feb. 18 and Feb. 25 (one class, two days), you can learn to carve a Delaware River style brant decoy with Master Carver Jode Hillman. The Stafford branch of the Ocean County Library System has a String of Purls- Knit/Crochet Group. Each branch has programs, crafts, movies, and story times for kids as well.

Burn Off the Energy. Helping kids burn off that energy is exhausting. The next few months will bring a lot of indoor recess and wet afternoons. Sometimes when you’re on day 10 of March rain, you just have to get them somewhere doing something. Fortunately, we have a few kid-specific gyms where little ones can run, climb, bounce, swing and jump. Check out Kid Zone on Bay Avenue in Manahawkin or Play Date Place in Forked River to switch it up a bit. Even Cross-Fit A-Game in Manahawkin has a Crossfit Kids Program.

Winter Stuff. It’s hard to say if we’ll have a serious winter or not, but our position on the coast of New Jersey is usually very close to the rain/snow line. Early indications are that we’ll certainly have a bit more white than last year, and at least one good dumping (well, we had one of those already).

Take advantage. There’s some decent sledding out at Ocean Acres Elementary School, the Manahawkin Train Station Museum and the Parkway hills in Barnegat, not to mention a few steep beaches on the Island. (Just stay off the dunes where applicable.) Our beaches are gorgeous the morning after a snowfall. And anyone with cross country skis or snowshoes knows we don’t get too many chances to do that.

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