For coastal residents, September means mild days, cool nights, warm ocean temperatures, and quiet neighborhoods.
It’s commonly known as “local summer.”
At Island Beach State Park, September means all of the above, but also something unique.
It’s when some hike through the lush maritime forest, where a variety of bird species and red fox live, for the annual beach plum harvest, a centuries-old tradition.
“The tart wild beach plum plant is native to the 10-mile-long barrier island park as well as coastal areas from Maine to Virginia. Early explorers mentioned it as early as 1524. Native Americans picked beach plums, and early settlers harvested plums for jams and jelly,” a release from The Friends of Island Beach State Park notes.
To celebrate the annual harvest, The Friends of Island Beach State Park hosts the Island Beach State Park Beach Plum Festival, a tradition entering its 16th season.
Slated for Sunday, September 8 at the park’s Ocean Beach Bathing Area #1, the beach plum crop is center stage (pick the tart, plum-like berries and enjoy ice cream, jam, and muffins), but there’s much more to see and do at the always lively rain or shine event, according to Bonnie Delaney, a volunteer with The Friends of Island Beach State Park.
Musicians, arts and crafts vendors, and a variety of environmental organizations will be on hand, including Clean Ocean Action, American Littoral Society, NJ Beach Buggy Association, Save Barnegat Bay, Barnegat Bay Partnership, Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ, Tuckerton Seaport, Marine Mammal Stranding Center and Project Terrapin, Delaney says.
There will also be hands-on nature demonstrations, lifeguard demonstrations of lifesaving and first aid techniques, and a kayak raffle.
“[Attendees] can also learn how to use a seining net to catch puffers, killies, crabs, and baby blue fish in the Barnegat Bay. The bay is a nursery for the fish and crabs,” she says.
Delaney says that while the event is fun and educational, it also casts a spotlight on The Friends of Island Beach State Park, a non-profit organization that relies on donations.
“[The organization] raises money to help the park by supporting programming and buying needed items that the park cannot afford to replace or repair,” she explains. “For example, this year the Friends donated a dozen sit-on-top kayaks that cost $6,000-plus and $7,000 worth of lifeguard equipment to replace items that were old or destroyed by Superstorm Sandy.”
In the storm’s aftermath, the organization supplied more than 65,000 beach grass plants that volunteers dutifully planted during 17 events in an effort to help restore the dunes.
IF YOU GO
The rain or shine festival on September 8 runs from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m.
There is no entrance fee at the park gate, but there is a suggested $5 parking donation benefiting The Friends of Island Beach State Park.