More than a thousand people recently accepted the challenge to try to visit 11 lighthouses, including Sea Girt, two museums and two life-saving stations scattered along the Atlantic Coast and up the Delaware River in just one weekend in the 2012 Lighthouse Challenge of New Jersey.
Held October 20-21, this was the 13th consecutive Lighthouse Challenge in the state. Sunny skies and pleasant autumn temperatures encouraged a strong turnout as people traveled along the seacoast and Delaware River. Challenge takers picked their starting points and set their own course for a journey that would take them some 430 miles or more start to finish.
At whatever was the first stop, everyone picked up a Lighthouse Challenge passports, which were available for just a $1 per copy. The 36-page souvenir passport contains a one-page description of each landmark or museum, and a facing blank page for the official stamp of that site.
At each stop, the Challenger taker would present the souvenir passport to be stamped.
While on tight schedules, most nevertheless made time to take a quick walk through each location to view the displays and climb to the top of the lighthouses for their spectacular views.
The passport description of each lighthouse included its longitude and latitude, year of activation, a brief history, its height and the number of steps from the first floor to the lantern room at the very top of the tower. The climb to the top ranged from 40 steps at Tucker’s Island to 228 steps at Absecon. There are only 42 steps at Sea Girt to the lantern room, which encouraged many to make the climb, although the last eight steps are up a ladder.
Before departing, many visitors took photographs. And volunteers were available to take photos of the visitors at the landmarks.
It was 9:30 Sunday morning when two enthusiastic Challenge takers arrived at Sea Girt Lighthouse and eagerly presented their passports to be stamped. This was their 15th and last stop, they reported.
After their passports were stamped, a volunteer counted all the stamps in their booklets, congratulated them and then affixed the gold seal of success to each of their passports that reads Challenge Completed CONGRATULATIONS!
They were the first to complete the 2012 Challenge at Sea Girt, having driven 429.7 miles. They arrived 55 minutes ahead of their schedule in 2011 when they also were first to complete the Challenge at Sea Girt.
The last finishers, a family of four from Montclair, arrived just in time, at 6 p.m., as the 2012 Challenge was concluding. They brought the total of Challenge visitors to Sea Girt Lighthouse this year to 1,131 – topping last year's total of 982.
Visitors to Sea Girt came from more than a dozen states, from as far away as Colorado, Idaho and Montana. While the majority were from New Jersey, there was a good representation from New York, Pennsylvania, particularly the Pittsburgh area, Maryland and Virginia. Coming the farthest was a woman from Costa Rica, who arrived with her sister and brother-in-law whom she was visiting in Woodbridge.
There were many return visitors, including a 7-year-old girl on her 7th Challenge, accompanied by her aunt and uncle. There was another participant would had done all 13 Challenges. A motorcycle club from Atlantic County participated as they have for several years.
At Sea Girt some 40 volunteers took turns working in three-hour shifts to welcome visitors, direct them through the tower and living quarters and answer questions. Among the docents were lighthouse trustee Jude Meehan and his sons, Harlan, 13, and Julian, 9. Harlan was assigned to the parlor and also spent some time in the tower. Julian did a few shifts at the front door, welcoming people and keeping count of visitors with a clicker. Joining lighthouse docents to volunteer was a troop of Venturing Scouts from Fort Dix.
Points of Light
The 15 stops in the 2012 Challenge were (north to south and then up the Delaware):
o Sandy Hook Lighthouse (1764). Oldest surviving U.S. lighthouse – and still on duty.
o Twin Lights (1862). On the Navesink Highlands 200 feet above sea level. First electric powered lighthouse (1898) and the most powerful beacon that could be seen for 22 miles.
o Sea Girt Lighthouse (1896). Illuminated blind spot between Twin Lights and Barnegat.
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.
o Life-Saving Station 30 (1885). Stations like No. 30 were built with funds released by an 1871 bill sponsored by a New Jersey congressman that created the Life-Saving Service.
o Tatham Life-Saving Station 35 (1895). Built on the Stone Harbor site of one of the earliest U.S. life-saving stations.
o Hereford Inlet Lighthouse (1874). Built in North Wildwood to guide ships in 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 the confluence of Delaware Bay and Maurice River.
o Finns Point Rear Range Light (1877). Mariners were safely in the Delaware River channel when this beacon and a shorter front-range beacon aligned as one beam.
o Tinicum Range Light (1880). Rear-range light farther up the Delaware River, teamed with a smaller front-range light to guide ships into Camden and Philadelphia.
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 2012 a rare opportunity.
The Challenge was a collaborative effort, co-sponsored by the organizations that run the sites, who have succeeded against long odds in preserving these shore landmarks and their rich histories. The primary goal of the Challenge is to promote awareness of New Jersey’s lighthouses specifically and lighthouse generally. The Challenge gave volunteers the chance to share that history with their many visitors.
Admission to Sea Girt Lighthouse and several others was free, although donations were encouraged and appreciated. Several stops did have nominal admission charges. The funds raised enable the various preservation groups to continue their efforts.