From early morning to dusk a steady stream of people equipped with maps and determination found their way to Sea Girt Lighthouse the weekend of October 15-16 as they trekked up and down and around the Jersey coast in the Lighthouse Challenge of New Jersey 2011.
The Challenge was to visit 11 historic lights, two associated museums and two life-saving stations. This was the most challenging Challenge ever with 15 stops – one more than last year and four more than the Challenges of the 1990s. This is the 12th year of the Challenge.
From Across America and Beyond
In contrast to Sea Girt’s typical turnout of 30-40 people for Sunday tours, the 2011 Challenge attracted almost 500 people each day. A total of 982 people came to Sea Girt Lighthouse. They came from every region of the continental United States – from 20 states altogether and Washington, D.C.
While most folks were from New Jersey and surrounding states, the guestbook also showed the visitors came from as far away as California and Texas and from Florida and most every state on the Eastern Seaboard, as well as the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador.
For many, it was a family outing. Rosemary Everly, from Arkansas, did the Challenge with her daughter, Joyce Price, who lives in Oklahoma. Kristin and Christina Barneski and their 6-year-old niece Destinyann Christina make this an annual adventure. Destinyann has already done six Challenges.
Venturing the farthest of any of the visitors to Sea Girt were Martin Thompson, an IT engineer from Scotland who lives in Sweden, and his wife, Pernilla, and their daughters, Tindra, 9, and Lova, 5. The Thompsons were vacationing in New Jersey, visiting relatives. They were enjoying a sunny afternoon at the Sea Girt beach when they wandered over to see what was happening at the busy lighthouse and wound up joining the fun. Martin and his family opted for their own mini-Challenge – exploring every room in Sea Girt Lighthouse and climbing into the tower.
Points of Light
The stops to make to complete the Challenge were (north to south and then up the Delaware):
o Sandy Hook Lighthouse (built 1764). Seized by British in American Revolution. Oldest U.S. lighthouse still on active duty.
o Navesink Twin Lights (1862). Guglielmo Marconi transmitted the first ship-to-shore telegraph message to Twin Lights in 1899.
o Sea Girt Lighthouse (1896). Built midway between Navesink and Barnegat to illuminate a blind spot. In 1921 Sea Girt was first land station to have a radio fog beacon system.
o Barnegat Lighthouse (1858). Denotes 40th parallel, crucial point in transatlantic sailing.
o Barnegat Light Museum. Old Barney’s 1st order Fresnel lens on display here.
o Tucker’s Island Lighthouse (1868). Replica built 1999 of lighthouse lost in 1927 storm.
o Absecon Lighthouse (1857). Built near Atlantic City as warning of dangerous shoals. Black & white stripes distinguish this light from the red & white striped Barnegat Light.
o U.S. Life-Saving Station 30 (1885). Congressman William Newell, a New Jersey physician and life-saving volunteer, sponsored the 1871 bill creating the U.S. Life-Saving Service and funding stations like No. 30, a new stop on this year’s Challenge.
o Tatham Life-Saving Station 35 (1895). Built in Stone Harbor on the site of one of the earliest U.S. life-saving stations.
o Hereford Inlet Lighthouse (1874). Built in North Wildwood to guide coal carriers and other commercial vessels passing through the inlet.
o Cape May Lighthouse (1859). Replaced two earlier lights destroyed by storms and tides.
o Cape May Museum. Current tower’s 1st order Fresnel lens on display here.
o East Point Lighthouse (1849). At confluence of Delaware Bay and Maurice River, East Point guided cargo ships to/from Millville manufacturing plants and local oystermen.
o Finns Point Range Light (1877). Not a lighthouse but a Delaware River rear-range light. Mariners steered so beams of the front-range light and taller rear light aligned as one beam. If a mariner saw two beams, the ship was outside the channel’s safe area.
o Tinicum Range Light (1880). Rear-range light farther up the Delaware, teamed with a smaller front-range light to guide ships into Camden and Philadelphia.
Meeting the Challenge
Visitors carried the official Challenge booklets, which were available for purchase at each lighthouse for $1. The souvenir booklets had images of all the stops in the Challenge on which participants put the appropriate stickers as they collected them at each location.
Kylie, an 8-year-old third grader doing the Challenge with her grandmother Lynne, knew just what to do upon arriving at Sea Girt Saturday morning on their third stop. Kylie went straight to the check-in desk, presented two Challenge booklets and received a sticker for each, which she carefully affixed in the proper spot.
Then Kylie pulled out a lighthouse passport. Such passports are popular with serious lighthouse enthusiasts to record all the lighthouses they’ve ever visited – no matter the time of year. Kylie opened her book to a blank page and politely asked a trustee to stamp it with the official Sea Girt Lighthouse seal. The trustee happily complied, bringing to 14 the number of lighthouse stamps Kylie has in her passport. After a quick look about, she and her grandmother were off to their next stop – Barnegat. “We have more to see, but already it’s great,” Kylie enthused.
Challenge takers set their own courses. Some went north to south. Others south to north. Some zig-zagged. Kathy Reinke made Sea Girt her 15th and last stop Sunday, arriving at 10:25 a.m., having logged 439 miles in the two-day shore sojourn to all the sites.
After a participant collected the prized sticker from the last stop, he or she was given one more for the keepsake booklet – a golden shield reading:
By the end of the 1800s, there were more than 40 lights illuminating New Jersey’s treacherous coastline and almost as many life-saving stations. Today, only half the lighthouses survive and fewer life-saving stations. Less than a dozen lights are regularly open to the public and only a handful of life-saving stations, which made Lighthouse Challenge 2011 a rare opportunity.
The Challenge was a collaborative effort of the volunteers at each site who have succeeded against long odds in preserving these shore landmarks and their rich history. The much-anticipated Challenge gave these volunteers the chance to share that history with their many visitors.