Boaters were expressing anger Friday over a new plan announced by state officials this week to place lifeguards near the A-7 beach at Island Beach State Park and charge a $3 walk-in fee per person to access the area.
The A-7 access area sits across from Tices Shoal, a popular anchorage in Barnegat Bay behind the park where boaters often gather for fun on the water. Frequently, boaters take a walk to the ocean beach using a walkway from the bay to the ocean. The fee would be charged this summer for those accessing the beach via the walkway.
Swimming at all other unguarded sections of Island Beach State Park remains prohibited, state officials said. Boaters believe the fee is being imposed to pay for lifeguards because boaters would often swim in the area, which has always been unguarded.
“The safety of our park visitors is our first priority,” said Richard Boornazian, DEP Assistant Commissioner of Natural and Historic Resources. “Emergencies in unguarded sections of the park often results in compromised lifeguard resources at our main pavilion areas where swimming is permitted. So providing this additional protection at the popular A-7 section will benefit all users of the park.”
Officials also say the swimming zone will create a better boundary to separate swimmers and anglers from getting in each others’ way.
“Our goal is to provide safe and equitable access to all of our visitors,” said Island Beach State Park manager Ray Bukowski. “The addition of this new swimming area will not only create a safe haven for swimmers with some of the best lifeguards at the Jersey Shore, but will also eliminate any conflicting use of distinct areas of the park.”
Boaters took to social media to criticize the fee, which they say is unfair given New Jersey’s high tax burden, plus extra taxes applied to marine fuel and boat registration fees.
“It will cost more for a family of four to walk in from Tices than to drive in,” said Donna McAvoy, a commenter on the Tices Shoal Facebook fan page.
“Typical action from the state of NJ,” said Jerry O’Rourke, another commenter. “This is directly targeted at the boating population. The whole 3-4 months a year we get to truly enjoy summer and the luxury of cruising over to Tices for a swim will now be another revenue stream like tolls on the roads. Just another reason to pack up and leave this state.”
Summer gate entry fees ($6 for New Jersey residents, $12 non-resident on weekdays; $10 for New Jersey residents, $20 for non-residents on weekends and holidays) remain unchanged.
The State Park Service does not maintain or regulate Tices Shoal, but does regulate access and use of Island Beach State Park and its resources, officials said.