September is a special time in Island Beach State Park.
Along with bountiful recreational activities, 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,” according to The Friends of Island Beach State Park.
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 17th season.
Slated for Sunday, Sept. 7 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.
Musicians, arts and crafts vendors, and a variety of environmental organizations will be on hand.
There will also be hands-on nature demonstrations, including “seining’’ on the bay (using large nets with sinkers and floats to enclose and catch fish) with park naturalists and lifeguard demonstrations of lifesaving and first aid techniques.
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, according to Patricia M. Vargo, president of Friends of Island Beach State Park.
“This is our biggest fund raiser of the year and we anticipate the turnout to exceed last year’s, when we had more than 6,000 visitors,” said Vargo. “With the participation and support of visitors who attend the festival, we can continue our mission of improving and adding additional programs and events at Island Beach State Park.”
In the Superstorm Sandy’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.
“We invite our residents and visitors to come out on Sunday and enjoy this beautiful state park, which took a direct hit from Superstorm Sandy but has fully recovered thanks to the hard work of the Island Beach staff and the support of our many partners,’’ said Richard Boornazian, DEP Assistant Commissioner for Natural and Historic Resources. There will be no fee at the gate, but a $5 parking donation is suggested to help support the festival.
IF YOU GO
The rain or shine festival runs from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m.
There will be no fee at the gate, but a $5 parking donation is suggested to help support the festival.