The Lighthouse Challenge of New Jersey 2010, held Saturday and Sunday, October 16-17, attracted enthusiastic visitors from near and very, very far to Sea Girt Lighthouse and 10 other historic lighthouses along the state’s 130-mile coastline.
The challenge for the participants was to get to the 11 New Jersey lighthouses along the Atlantic Ocean and up the Delaware River over the weekend. This year’s Lighthouse Challenge proved a triumph for both those who completed it and the volunteers who made it happen.
More than a thousand people took part in Challenge 2010, proceeding in whatever sequence they chose. The lights: Sandy Hook, Navesink Twin Lights, Sea Girt, Barneget, Tucker’s Island, Absecon, Hereford Inlet, Cape May, East Point, Finns Point and Tinicum. At Sea Girt Lighthouse, volunteers counted 1,098 Challenge participants, plus two dogs.
While the majority came from New Jersey, many came from neighboring New York – City, suburbs and upstate – and Pennsylvania, particularly from the Philadelphia area. Still others came from Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Ohio, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia and Texas, as well as Canada and Germany.
They came carrying the official tri-fold Lighthouse Challenge booklet, containing photos and descriptions of the lights. The colorful booklets were being sold at every location for $1 each.
At each lighthouse visited, Challenger takers presented their booklets to be stamped with the official stamp of that lighthouse. In this way, participants charted their progress.
After collecting their 11th lighthouse stamp at their final stop, the successful participants had gold seals affixed to their booklets reading Challenge Completed: Congratulations!
The lighthouses were open at least from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. A few were open later for night climbs. Rare Fresnel lenses were on display at Sea Girt, Sandy Hook and a few other stops. In addition to the lighthouses, the Challenge offered bonus stops at Barnegat Museum, the Cape May Museum and Tatham Life-Saving Station in Stone Harbor.
At Sea Girt, visitors had access to every room – the keeper’s office, the living quarters, and up the spiral staircase to the lantern room at the very top of the tower. While volunteers were on hand to answer questions and staff the merchandise table, tours were self-guided.
Inside and out, many Challenge participants were enthusiastically taking photos and videos of the building and its distinctive architectural features as well as the historic artifacts within.
Among the subjects they focused on were the tower, the parlor fireplace and mantel, the 4th order Fresnel lens, the Morro Castle display, the spiral staircase and ladder into the lantern room and the spectacular ocean view from the lantern room.
Perhaps the most popular and last photo taken – and often by a volunteer – was of departing participants standing proudly by the Sea Girt Lighthouse sign on the front lawn, proof to friends back home that they got here.
Having as much fun as the participants were the volunteers, who enjoyed meeting their fellow lighthouse enthusiasts.
Some three dozen members of the Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee, the non-profit organization that maintains and operates the lighthouse, volunteered to work in three-hour shifts.
Among the volunteers was 20-year-old Greg Fitzgerald, a college junior and a lighthouse enthusiast who has been volunteering since he was 13. He has visited some 350 lighthouse around the world and rates Sea Girt as his favorite.
Jude Meehan, a frequent guide for Sunday tours at Sea Girt Lighthouse, was in the tower both days of the Challenge. Helping him in the tower was his seven-year-old son, Julian. The enthusiastic youngster also took a turn greeting people at the front door.
One Light Lost
This is the 11th year New Jersey lighthouses have opened their doors for the Challenge, the first of its kind anywhere in the country that has inspired similar lighthouse events in several other states and Ontario.
The Lighthouse Challenge of New Jersey provided an opportunity to explore, appreciate and support historic landmarks that contributed significantly to the economic and population growth of shore communities, the state and the nation by guiding mariners, their passengers and cargo safely to their destinations.
Underscoring the rare opportunity to visit these treasures and the need for support in their preservation was the loss of a 12th lighthouse, Ludlam Beach Lighthouse in Sea Isle City. While organizers planned to include it in Challenge 2010, the building was demolished in September.
Built in 1885, Ludlam Beach was decommissioned in 1924 and sold by the government. The building was moved by private owners. It has been operated for decades as a six-unit summer rental. The most recent owner, wanting to redevelop the property, offered the building free to an individual or group who would move it to another site.
Preservationists and others tried to raise funds and gather community support. Efforts were initially hopefully but fell short. The building was demolished September 21. Thus, Ludlam Beach joined the roster of some 20 other New Jersey lights that have been lost.
Challenge Must Go On
The Lighthouse Challenge of New Jersey 2010 proved especially challenging for organizers and was in doubt for awhile.
For the past 10 years, the New Jersey Lighthouse Society sponsored what it called the New Jersey Lighthouse Challenge®. The volunteer co-chairs who so successfully organized the Society’s Challenges announced in late 2008 they would step down after the 2009 event. When no one came forward to take up the reins, the Society reluctantly cancelled its plans for this year.
Not wanting the annual event to end, representatives at the individual lighthouses met to discuss how to keep the effort going. Last winter they formed the Lighthouse Managers of New Jersey as the sponsoring organization for the Lighthouse Challenge of New Jersey 2010.
Each participating lighthouse contributed financial support to a planning and promotional budget and agreed to be open for extended hours on the designated weekend of October 16-17.
And lighthouse lovers heeded the call and showed their support through their attendance. Unlike the stormy conditions during the 2009 Challenge, this year the weather cooperated with clear skies and pleasant temperatures.
Visitors came alone, in pairs and in groups large and small. There were many families. Boy Scouts from Burlington County, whose parents are in the National Guard there, visited as did a few school groups.
Most came by car, some groups in vans and buses. A caravan of motorists drove in classic red Pontiac Firebirds. And a group of motorcycle enthusiasts roared from one lighthouse to the next on their motorcycles.
Depending on their itinerary, Challenge participants would have gone anywhere from 350 to well over 400 miles from the first stop to the last. Directions were provided. But a few detours due to local road construction or 10K races added to the challenge.