Details: State park beaches in Delaware and New Jersey
The ocean-edge state parks in Delaware and New Jersey aren’t devoid of people. I could see a pointillist’s pattern of colorful bathing suits in the distance and hear the mosquito buzz of jet skis. But the human footprint is much fainter on these strands. Because of restrictions on construction, parking, concessions and other markings of homo sapiens, the beaches retain their natural landscape. Some days, the wildlife can outnumber the humans. Make way for the piping plovers, and please take out your own trash.
“It’s very clean. It’s natural,” said Steve Stallone, a New York native who has been visiting Delaware’s Fenwick Island State Park for nearly two decades. “They’ve done such a good job of preserving the environment.”
The three state beaches circled on my map are pristine sandboxes wedged between some of the most congested, scuffed-up strips along the East Coast. Ocean City in Maryland, for instance, is a beer can’s roll from Fenwick. Jersey’s Ocean City and Seaside Heights sit like party hats atop the long necks of Corson’s Inlet and Island Beach state parks, respectively.
But once I entered the state parks, the hubbub dropped away. Plovers and crabs don’t need funnel cakes or fake tattoos, and neither did I.
Something was missing at Fenwick Island State Park: There was no trash, and even more striking, no trash cans. The only detritus I saw came from the ocean, and the seaweed and shells complemented the maritime setting.
Since 1994, the park has required visitors to carry out everything they drag in. The rule helps shoo away pesky yellowjackets and beggarly seagulls. Beachgoers who forget to pack a receptacle can grab a plastic bag from a stack hanging at the entryway.
Fenwick Island State Park is group-hugged by Fenwick Island’s beach, which abuts the state line, and South Bethany Beach. The park also embraces a mile-long section of Little Assawoman Bay, across Route 1.
The three-mile stretch of sand is the color of toasted coconut and as soft as cat fur. It measures 1,000 feet at its narrowest point and twice that at its widest. No high-rise condos, hotels or other commercial structures — except for a beach pavilion with bathrooms, showers and a snack bar — mar the view. Nothing would come between me and my Atlantic.
The main activities on Fenwick are more passive than active: sunning, reading, dozing and floating. (One exception: An outfitter on the bay side rents sailboats, stand-up paddleboards and kayaks and leads eco-tours.) The park does allow fisherfolk, with the proper permit, to drive onto the beach and plant a pole outside the guarded swimming area. I didn’t note much output of energy, though. Most people were lazing in beach chairs, keeping a loose watch on their lines in case they started to quiver. I didn’t see a single tug or catch. I hope they had backup dinner plans.