CapeMay.com - Cape May NJ Travel Guide and Vacation Planner

CapeMay.com Blog

Category: Cape May Magazine

The following articles originally appeared in our sister publication, Cape May Magazine. Subscribe at capemaymag.com.

Marvin Hume

The Islander - Marvin Hume

Since being wounded in The Battle of Saipan during World War II, Marvin Hume has been eligible for the prestigious Purple Heart, a military decoration which he refuses to this day. “I saw guys much worse than me during the war,” Hume explains. “Guys with limbs missing. I wasn’t looking to beat any drums. I just did what I had to do.”

His patriotism is unwavering as he presides over the flag lowering ceremony each evening at Sunset Beach to pay honor to the men and women who have served the country.

Widowed, Hume lives with his life partner Patricia Wolfe in Erma where he recently welcomed Cape May Magazine to discuss his life, and the love he has for his community and his country.


Hot Dog Tommy

Hot Dog Tommy, Cape May NJDon’t feel bad for Tom Snyder and his wife, Mary. Though the space at Hot Dog Tommy’s, their tiny stand on Jackson Street, may seem small as you get handed your Black Russian or Carrot Dog, it’s just the right size for this freewheelin’ pair.

“We don’t need big spaces anymore,” said Tom. “Compacting one’s life is a neat thing. “

As I sat down with Tom on the Promenade while he compacted his life into one story, I realized I was sharing wooden slats with half of the world’s coolest couple, who just happen to own a hot dog stand.

Tom and Mary moved to Cape May in 1984 when they bought The Manor House bed and breakfast on Hughes Street. They had never been here before.

What made them do that?

“Drugs,” Tom answered without delay. Laughter followed a perfect comedic pause. “I’m kidding.”

After they sold The Manor House, Tom and Mary’s excellent adventures continued when they bought the Dry Dock Restaurant on Texas Avenue. They sold it five years later, bought an RV and drove around the country.

Say what? I can almost smell the patchouli.

“We first worked at Grand Teton National Park. Then we found work in South Dakota. I was a buffalo tour guide, a guy from New Jersey who took people through the black hills and buffalo herd at the Custer State Park,” Tom said. “We did that for three years and loved it. Then we found a gig at Disneyworld in Orlando for the winter months. That’s when Mary had this great idea to do a small business. Nothing with “e” in it – employees, equipment, etc.,” said Tom. “That was 10 years ago. Hot Dog Tommy’s started growing and now we have employees. And equipment.”

And to think this Hot Dog was a vegetarian when he first came to Cape May. Not anymore, though he still has tendencies.

“Last year we introduced the carrot dog. It’s a steamed carrot, grilled and served with toppings. We have 19 different toppings. The mashed potato tornado can be vegetarian. We do salads, too. It’s a hot dog joint, but we do have vegetarian options,” Tom said.

And they have housing options. The Snyders split their time summering in Cape May and wintering down south.

“We found a corner of southwest Georgia called Americus in Sumter County – pecans, peanuts and cotton. We park our rig on US Highway 280 East. Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter live on 280 in Plains, Georgia. He’s our Sunday school teacher.”

Okay, now I really do think you’re on drugs. Jimmy Carter is your Sunday School teacher?

“He’s taught Sunday school since he was in the Naval Academy. The only years he didn’t teach was when he was President,” said Tom. “He’s phenomenal.”

Tom’s been a buffalo tour guide, Jimmy Carter’s student, and kept a straight face while wearing a hot dog hat. What’s next?

“What’s next? Did you not follow the chronology of the things I’ve done? Whenever Mary and I stop doing something we have not an idea in hell what we’re doing next. On the Hot Dog Tommy tee shirt, we have our mantra: Relish Today, Ketchup Tomorrow.

“Finally I found a business that fits my philosophy of life, ‘Manana, who knows?’ ”

(Disclaimer – no actual drugs were taken during the interview and writing of this story. We did have a hot dog or two, though.) cape may dog friendly beaches

Editor’s Note: This Cape May Character article written by Stefanie Godfrey was originally published in the July 2012 issue of Cape May Magazine


Then and Now: The Impact of Urban Renewal

urban-header

The Hedges, a private home. The Hedges later became Arnold’s Green Terrace Restaurant and Bar.

Even for people who have been in Cape May for generations, the Cape May of just 50 years ago is a real juxtaposition with today’s town, where houses are generally well-maintained and have median appraisal values exceeding half a million dollars. Who can even remember the invariably white-painted, poorly-maintained, old fashioned houses of the 1960s or Washington Street before it became a mall? Even pictures don’t totally tell the story of how houses fell into – and out of – disrepair.

One story of how Cape May became blighted went like this (as told by a city employee in 1969 Senate testimony). First, large houses were built by wealthy out-of-town families who needed space for their families and servants. Then, various events occurred such as the 1929 depression which resulted in these properties being taken over by people with more moderate incomes who could not afford to maintain them. New owners divided once single family properties into multiple rooms and apartments for summer rental. Hard use by renters contributed to ongoing deterioration right up until the 1960s when summer visitors were drawn to new, modern motel rooms. Cape May’s rooming house era had ended. Once-elegant homes were now viewed as undesirable “white elephants.” Cape May was ripe for change.

So many American communities had fallen into this same disrepair that Lyndon Johnson made the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) a central component of the War on Poverty. With it came funds to eliminate slums and create opportunities for economic development. While Cape May residents wanted to improve their town, not everyone was enamored with accepting federal funds, especially those from Democrats. The townspeople – or at least some of them – were beginning to think about how Cape May could be changed. Some wanted to highlight the Victorian homes. Others wanted to create ratables. Enormous destruction from the 1962 storm forced people to consider state and federal programs to assist in rebuilding the town.

tides

The Tides Condominium complex was built where the Baltimore Inn once stood. The Baltimore Inn was demolished as part of urban renewal.

The first recommendation to pursue federal funds came in 1963 from the Planning Board with recommendations to give the go-ahead to Blair and Stein Associates to prepare an application for an urban renewal project. The application came with a $1000 fee. City officials sold the project by informing citizens that this would be the only taxpayer cost. Even the required city contribution would use previously awarded state funds used to build the promenade following the 1962 storm. Then as now, Cape May residents were conservative about spending taxpayer funds. Blair and Stein were to determine project boundaries, estimate costs, and shape ideas to match renewal fund requirements. The Planning Board suggested a focus on three geographical areas. The Elmira/Bank Street area was destined for complete renewal and for public housing. The Washington Street business center required some demolition and reconfiguring to become a viable commercial center, and the area between the business center and the beach would become an historic area. As part of preliminary planning steps, architectural historian Carolyn Pitts completed a 1964 survey of Victorian properties within what was expected to be the urban renewal district. The survey identified properties for renewal or demolition but, then as now, city decisions about demolition were not necessarily based on the survey. Many historic properties were demolished to accommodate new and non-historic projects.

atlantic-terrace

The landscape of Atlantic Terrace has changed. The gardens have been replaced by small kiosks. The Seven Sisters in the background still remain.

By 1965, the city approved the $3.2 million 77-acre HUD-designated Victorian Village Urban Renewal Project. In the end, there were more than 100 demolished properties, three “new” streets and several large parking lots in the center of town, low income housing projects, beachfront changes, and the massive Victorian Towers to house elderly residents. Then as now, nothing was accomplished without the fights, legal suits, and government changes through which groups express their opinions.

A city-distributed urban renewal progress report outlined Cape May goals “to rehabilitate a complete center-city area into a reborn Victorian showplace designed to attract hundreds of thousands of American and foreign tourists; to revitalize downtown shopping areas; provide scores of improvements through new construction and renovation; and most important, to provide new bases of economic security for all its citizens.” Staff were hired to run the project and an office was established in the 300 block of Washington Street. The first project to be completed was the Victorian Village Plaza. Dedicated in 1966 and described as providing “the major nucleus of a revitalized merchant community,” the project required relocating a train station and demolishing a train depot and a number of other properties to create a 200-car parking lot and six retail stores including the Acme grocery store. Right across Washington Street, a whole block of businesses and a hotel were leveled to provide the large parcel of land needed for Victorian Towers. Additional properties were demolished to extend Ocean Street further north to Lafayette Street. A whole area of Cape May had been reconfigured.

victowers

Many buildings were demolished in order to build Victorian Towers.

Most of the urban renewal work was centered in the middle of the town. Creating a new business district and clearing out areas around Lafayette Street were primary targets. Three blocks of Washington Street were selected to be closed off into a walking mall, an action that city fathers stated will “engender more life in the main shopping area particularly in the fall and winter.” Numerous properties were demolished on the mall blocks to be replaced by modern “Victorian-like” stores, a trend that has continued right up to the present. On the eastern end, the Liberty Theater was demolished and replaced with a series of small stores lining a newly-created Liberty Walk. A modern two-story building, built as Charles Sandman’s offices, eventually becomes a shopping mall complete with an escalator; another newly constructed building was a mid-century modern building with a front façade of vertical wood boards. Other properties were demolished to create three walkways paralleling Ocean, Decatur, Jackson, and Perry streets named for Cape May heroes, Edwin Draper, MD, Henry Sawyer, and Edwin Hill.

The mall was anchored on the eastern end by the Victorian Village Plaza. The western end, along Perry Street and Congress Place, included Congress Hall’s parking garages and three historic properties – the Pink House, Moon’s Drug Store, and the small hotel/boarding house called the Elberon. One idea was for the Pink House to be moved and turned around so that it faced the end of the mall. But, properties were taken by eminent domain and suddenly seven properties were being demolished to create land space for the modern Victorian Motel, destined to provide city ratables that the Victorian properties may not. Before the wreckers got to the Pink House, it was purchased by Tom Hand and moved across the street to a lot on Perry Street next to his Cape May Star and Wave offices where today it looks as though it has been there forever.

The Washington Street Mall as it appeared in the 1950s. In this photograph you can also see the buildings that were demolished to make way for the Victorian Towers.

The Washington Street Mall as it appeared in the 1950s. In this photograph you can also see the buildings that were demolished to make way for the Victorian Towers.

Creating the pedestrian mall eliminated street parking and store access thereby requiring redesign of the area around the mall to recreate parking and give delivery access. The solution was to carve out two new wide streets on either side behind the mall by demolishing still more existing properties to create roadways with diagonal parking. Although little accommodation was made for trash or storage, most stores had back doors for deliveries and many stores actually fronted on these new streets. Lyle Lane was created on the north from Mansion Street and renamed Lyle Lane in honor of a local Cape May family. A section of Layle Lane was renamed back to Mansion Street when Perry Collier opened the Mansion House restaurant and discovered the street’s original name. Carpenters Alley already existed south of Washington between Decatur and Ocean and was extended over to Ocean Street demolishing four more houses, renamed Carpenters Lane, and continued behind the other two blocks over to Perry Street resulting in another 20 demolitions. In fact, the massive number of demolitions created another problem for the city – how to dispose of the buildings once they were torn down.

The mall may have been the cornerstone project, but large tracts of land in the center city area were cleared of businesses and houses to create parking. Many properties were identified as Victorian in the survey, but they were torn down anyway. Tiny Chestnut Street, running parallel to Perry between Mansion and Broad Street, was virtually obliterated by demolishing all 14 structures on the street to create a city parking lot. Additional properties across from the parking lot and from the corner of Lafayette to Broad were destroyed including the long popular Opera House. Another 10 houses were torn down along Lafayette between Jackson and Decatur to create another parking lot, which at the last minute became Rotary Park, an eventual location for city-sponsored concerts. This area was cleared by destroying businesses and homes of the African American community. Even more African American-owned properties were demolished along Broad Street and further east on Lafayette and replaced with affordable housing units. City fathers created a “War on Blight” in the center of town that physically demolished houses and businesses while simultaneously almost eliminating 60 African-American businesses and simultaneously contributing to the reduction of the town’s African American population from about 800 to the 200 present day residents.

Cape May's former train station was located at Ocean and Washington Streets. After the train station was torn down, a parking lot remained there until the Washington Commons shopping area was built.

Cape May’s former train station was located at Ocean and Washington Streets. After the train station was torn down, a parking lot remained there until the Washington Commons shopping area was built.

Little of the beachfront was included in the renewal project district, to the great relief of developers who were anxious to start building those new motels that line today’s beachfront. Like today, owners of existing hotels within the Victorian Village district wanted to offer tourists better accommodations by becoming more modern and up-to-date. Carl McIntyre, a minister from Collingswood, New Jersey, purchased and moved a number of historic properties so that beachfront land became available for the Colonial and other existing hotels got to build adjacent motels with parking. The saved historic houses became dormitories for Dr. McIntyre’s newly opened Sheldon College and, as the college declined, these same properties took on new life as condominiums and a bed and breakfast inn. Other historic properties did not fare so well. The Baltimore Inn on Jackson Street was demolished by the city to create land for a new motel that eventually failed and was reconfigured into the Tides Condominium. Right next door, on the corner of Jackson and Beach, the Hedges, a private home that had already been converted into the then-popular Arnold’s restaurant, was replaced by miniature golf. The very-Victorian Colton Court hotel was torn down to allow a modern motel, also named Colton Court, to rise in its place. The Lafayette Hotel, one of the oldest and most prominent of the remaining Victorian hotels, became another demolition statistic, torn down and replaced on the same site by a new hotel with in-front parking.

The 68 demolitions achieved in the first half of the urban renewal project were listed in the city’s published progress report as an accomplishment. One can only guess at the percent of Cape May properties that were ultimately razed and be grateful that in the Cape May way, a new administration was voted in to stop the widespread destruction before there was little left of the original Victorian properties.

Where Arnold's once stood, you can now find Carney's Restaurant and Bar and a mini golf course.

Where Arnold’s once stood, you can now find Carney’s Restaurant and Bar and a mini golf course.

A lot might be said looking backward almost 50 years to the onset of urban renewal. The goal of creating a stable year-round economic base for all residents did not materialize. If anything, Cape May’s economy is more dependent on tourism than ever before in its history. Then as now, few elected or employed city officials have provided knowledgeable leadership to guide meaningful historic preservation efforts although nobody has avoided talking the historic preservation talk when useful. Perhaps urban renewal funds were just the ticket to mobilize Cape May residents and provide a base from which newcomers would create the bed and breakfast, restaurant, and cultural changes to come. In hindsight, we do not, after all, look like other New Jersey shore towns where almost anything historic (or not) is gone. On the other hand, there may be more “Victorians” in Cape May now than in the 1960s if we are willing to count all the newly constructed sort-of Victorians that have been added since the real Victorian period ended. historic-endmark

Editor’s Note: This article is based on a Then and Now picture exhibit put together by Harry Bellangy, president, Greater Cape May Historical Association and exhibited at the Association’s Colonial House during the summer of 2011.

It should be noted that Mickie Blomkvest served on Cape May City Council from 1968-1972 during Urban Renewal. Mr. Blomkvest later went on to serve as mayor of Cape May from 1976-1988.


The Candyman

joe

Joe Bogle has been a presence in Cape May for all of his 59 years. The Fudge Kitchen, the business he co owns with his brother Paul, celebrates its 41st Anniversary this year. We sat down with the smiling Candyman in his office, happily intoxicated by the sweet aroma of chocolate that filled the air.

I was two days old the first time I came to Cape May. I was born in July and our summer home was where Dock Mike’s is now. We lived there for years. Then my family bought a home (I still live in that home) on First Avenue. I’m 59 years old; I’ve been here every summer of my life and for the last 30 years, every day of my life.

My brother Paul and I started a little candy store on the Boardwalk in North Wildwood when we were teenagers. Our plan was to make a little money and go to college. We did. My degree is in Political Science with a master’s in Religious Education.

I like selling fudge better than both of those subjects.

The candy store was a natural fit for Paul and me. Before we went out on our own, we worked for Mr. Segal at Segal’s Candies next to the Beach Theater. They were very good to us.

My mother, Catherine, was our first sample lady. We hand whipped the fudge in the window and people started watching us. She used to stand outside all night long handing out samples. If you have something that’s good and you’re proud of it, you should let people taste it. We are very proud of our fudge and we think it’s the best.

I’m in a business surrounded by happy people. My co-workers are not always so happy to see me, but I love what I do, I love being here. I’m very lucky.

There’s a candy called a Sour Patch Kid and it’s sweet and sour. Most of the times I’m very sweet, but once in a blue moon, a little sour streak comes out. I try to be happy and nice all the time.

I ask the people that work for me, no matter what the circumstances, to be nice to our customers. Being nice is as important as the product itself.

When I’m not at work I love to go out to dinner at the Lobster House, the Merion, the Washington Inn, Lucky Bones, Pilot House, but I never order dessert when I’m out. If I want dessert, I take some candy home. Unless they have Key Lime Pie. I love Key Lime Pie.
I also love Frank Sinatra. I’m the Candyman who sings Sinatra. Did you ever hear my commercials on the radio? That’s me singing … “The summer wind came blowing in…”

I have a face made for radio.


The Bread Lady

liz4

Her name is Elizabeth Degener. Her father calls her Biz. Her friends call her Liz. But to all who queue up on a Saturday or Sunday morning along Sunset Boulevard, waiting for her arrival – she is simply known as The Bread lady.

This is her third summer selling bread from a roadside stand located at the foot of the family’s Enfin Farms property. As one waiting customer observed, the bread stand looks like the one Lucy uses in the Peanuts cartoon. Lucy’s stand has a sign which reads “Doctor is in.” At 8:50 a.m. on a Saturday morning, nearly one hour before Showtime, The Bread Lady’s stand is unadorned.

I start to walk up the long driveway toward the farmhouse when I hear my name being called. It is The Bread Lady’s father, Rich Degener. He is tugging at some tree roots over on the far side of the selling area. He tells me he is clearing more land so she has room to expand. I ask him if he likes the attention his daughter is getting, and he looks up into the sky as though pondering the question, smiles and answers very proudly, “I don’t mind being referred to as The Bread Lady’s father. I like that. Just walk up the driveway, Biz is expecting you.”

liz3

It is getting onto 9 a.m. and I am anxious to meet The Bread Lady so, even though I would like to stay and chat longer, I begin the walk up the long driveway.

When the farmhouse comes into view, I don’t see Elizabeth about, but I do eye the wood-fired clay oven which was shipped in from California in one piece. I call her name and she pops out from behind a bush near the farmhouse and greets me. She is wearing a simple white shift and she has a kerchief about her head which keeps her thick, curly hair in abeyance. Elizabeth introduces me to Wesley Laudeman, who runs the farming portion of the business, and then offers me some freshly made ginger tea. It is still warm, garnished with a slice of cucumber and mint, has quite a bite to it.

I bake myself, although not bread. Pies and cakes are me specialty, and I am anxious to investigate the clay oven which sits atop a concrete stand, which I estimate to be about four feet high and four feet wide.. Elizabeth opens the oven for me so that I might get a first-hand look at its inners and slips a lone loaf of bread, which did not seem to be quite done, back into the oven. Then we go into The Bread Lady’s inner sanctum – a commercial kitchen where all the bread has been readied in lovely cloth-lined baskets. Rounds with baguettes. Classic French bread mixed with Pumpernickels. Rosemary & Thyme loaves mixed with Raisin and Spice loaves, and all the assorted breads which will be offered on this already very warm Saturday morning. At the appropriate time, the baskets will be loaded onto the back of her father’s pickup truck and he will back it down the driveway. Within minutes, the empty Charlie Brown bread stand and adjacent vegetable market will be transformed into a slice of Europe.

But how did it all come about is my question.

It actually began in Ireland. Elizabeth studied International Business at the American College of Dublin. “On my summer holidays I would bounce around through Europe and go to farms through the WWOOFing program.” WWOOF hosts offer food, accommodation and opportunities to learn about organic lifestyles. “They give you,” she explained, “housing in exchange for maintenance on the farm. You learn about farm production, agriculture, in some cases baking, and anything that has to do with primitive living, really.”

Her travels took her to Germany for the summer proceeding her senior year and six months more after graduation. At that point, she became the cook for the community which included baking with a clay oven. After Germany, Elizabeth went off to India and also was the community cook there. In February 2010, she returned home.

liz1

“I didn’t have anything started yet,” she said, “but I knew I wanted to so something with farming and baking. So we [she and her dad) ordered the clay oven. I didn’t know what to expect. I took a big chance ordering it. The first summer was really slow. This is the third season and it is catching on, especially with [adding] the vegetables.”

Wesley, who is in charge of farming, is a childhood friend of Elizabeth’s and also had experience in the WOOF program in Mexico and Canada. Otherwise, it is a family affair, which Elizabeth would like to encourage. “My brother [Rick] just put in a big raspberry patch,” she said. “And he’s hoping to have a big yield within the year. He has big plans. We thought about planting blueberries, but we wanted something with high yield that you can sustain a small livelihood from and raspberries are very lucrative. We can get a substantial production out of them in one year. Blueberries take five years.” Her hope is that her other brother, Geoff, currently living in Baltimore, will return home and join the operation in some capacity.

So, I am wondering, what is a typical bread baking week like?

“All week I’m kneading the dough. It rises once. I shape it and I freeze it. Then [on Saturday] I get up at 4 a.m. I take the bread out of the deep freezer. It thaws and rises again. [Meanwhile], I fire up the oven. On the first day it will take two hours [to reach its appropriate temperature]. Tomorrow, only one hour.”

She makes, on average, about a 100 loaves a bead a day.

Before I know it, it is 9:45 and time to load the bread baskets, topped with linen towels or mesh domes to protect them from the bugs and insects, onto the truck. By the time we walk back down the driveway, making sure we say hello to the resident ducks, which Wesley says do a fine job of keeping the bugs off the vegetable and flower gardens, the bread line has begun and is growing. Seasoned customers come with friends and make a morning of it, chatting and catching up on the news. Others peek around while The Bread Lady and Wesley hang up the wooden signs which specify the choices. Within minutes, the stand and vegetable “market” have been transformed into a slice of Europe.

liz2

I dutifully take my place at the end of the line and when it is my turn buy – at the Bread Lady’s suggestion – a large loaf of Toasted Millet with sunflower, flax and poppy seeds, plus Chocolate Muffins for breakfast on Sunday. Who am I kidding? I wasn’t half a block down the road when I was enjoying one of those.

It’s a beautiful thing to see young entrepreneurs coming home to make a difference and I am sure The Bread Lady, who still hand-kneads all the bread, will be investing in a mixer one of these days. Her summer days of operation are Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

As an postscript to my story, The Bread Lady ran out of bread the next day and felt so badly, she went back to kitchen and made more bread and hand delivered it to a few of the customers who were left wanting. Now that’s a success story. historic-endmark


Photo contest staff picks

In February, Cape May Magazine held its first photo contest, and the winners (who were chosen by the magazine’s Facebook fans) are published in the Spring 2013 issue. But we thought it would be fun to share our staff favorites with you here on CapeMay.com.

kingoftheworld

“I’m King of the World”

Photographer: Katrina W. Miller – November 8, 2012
Who liked this best: Jessica Keeler, web & social media manager

*****

sun

Photographer: Valerie Cancel – August 2011
Who liked this best: Susan Tischler, Editor

*****

yellowgull

Photographer: Mary Gentile – April 2012
Who liked this best: Bernie Haas, Publisher

*****

buoys

Photographer: Steve Haas – Spring 2011
Who liked this best: Stephanie Madsen, Art Director

*****

driftwood

Photographer: Lisa Ryan – July 4, 2010
Who liked this best: Michelle Bumm, staff photographer

*****

Do you have photos of Cape May you want to share with us? Post them on CapeMay.com’s Facebook page or tag your pics #lovecapemay on Tumblr and Twitter.


A trip to the zoo

daytripping-zoo

Did you know a peacock has a super loud mating call? It’s a scene, man. And that a lion’s roar can be heard really far away? How do I know this? No, I haven’t been to the African Savannah or wherever it is where peacocks live; just went to Exit 11 off the Garden State Parkway ̶ about a 15-minute drive from anywhere in Cape May.

Right there, about a mile off the main road, lies the Cape May County Park and Zoo, and wait till you see what’s inside. Lions and tigers and bears? Oh my!

Once school lets out, my kids and I crank Schools Out for Summer by Alice Cooper and roll the windows down ̶ a move that would be far more rebellious, say, if they weren’t only in preschool and my car was a cool ’57 Chevy and not a Honda minivan. We start looking for little trips to take for a morning or afternoon that gets us some culture, fun and sun. Our first trip of choice is usually the zoo.

peacock

The Zoo and Park sit on 85 acres of land. The zoo has over 550 animals, representing 250 species. The best part? Even though this sounds like a lot to take in, the zoo is very manageable and can be walked through in an hour, or three, depending on the length of time your children will give you.

On our zoo day, we pack a lunch (there are picnic tables on the park grounds), and head out early. Crowds can build up quickly in summer mainly because the zoo has free admission. You heard that correctly. There is no charge to go to this zoo. They only ask for a donation. Be prepared to give one, it’s very hard to say no to the kind, retired man who hands you a map and holds a bucket out towards you as you pass through the entrance.

As we drive in, my boys completely forget we are going to see wild animals and beg me to go to the playground. The park and zoo have two really cool ones that sit adjacent to the front parking lots. They are busy with kids almost all year round. I say, “We’ll go after the zoo if you’re good,” and this usually settles down my beasts. Note: if you go on the smaller kid’s playground behind the big one, try the blue twirly cups. They are better than a ride at Great Adventure.

Once inside the zoo, you are treated to a snowy white owl. We call her Hedwig even though we don’t know if she’s a boy or girl. One day I’ll be able to read the signs that tell all about the animals… but it hasn’t happened yet. Right after you visit Hedwig, you’ll most likely meander toward the goats and chickens. There is food available for purchase (bring some quarters) and it’s fun to let the animals eat right out of your hand. My kids love this part. I can still imagine the goat’s big dark pink tongue sticking out and grabbing the food from my palm. The zoo has antibacterial soap dispensers right there. I love that part too.

camel

From the goat and chicken coop, you can head in a couple of directions. We usually keep on a straight course and watch the pair of bald eagles fly around or just look majestic up on their perch. This path also leads to the indoor bird exhibit. The one (and only) time we went through, my little one got startled by the two birds that often greet visitors as they pass through the vestibule. Use caution if you have someone who doesn’t like loud sounds. But if you do go in, it’s a pretty awesome experience to have birds flying around you with no cages and all freedom inside the room.

Outside of the bird exhibit and near the bald eagles, you can usually find a peacock or two strutting around. They mate in spring, around late March/early April, but if you’re lucky, you’ll see a male in full plumage. Just be aware that they make a loud sound with their call. There are also guinea hens walking around there.

goat

All paths at the zoo lead to something pretty awesome. My boys, Salem and Finn, like the African Savannah area the best. And I think I do too, though when I walk through the large gate and up the boards, I can’t help but think what would happen if I was left at the zoo with the animals all Jumanji style.

Through these forested lands, you’ll find signs telling which trees are which (these we read) and eventually you’ll come to the main attractions, though there is plenty to see and hear along the way. Once the forest clears, the savannah comes into view and (gasp!) there’s a giant giraffe just a few feet away. No cages, just separated by space. Awesome! There are also bison and ostrich in here, but they seem to play second and third fiddle to the spotted crew. Zebra and bongos also live in this area.

giraffe

The zoo is laid out so well that you never feel like there isn’t a place to pull off the main drag, give your baby a bottle, or your big girl a sippy cup. Food isn’t allowed in the actual zoo – but drinks are. You will get thirsty walking around if the weather is sunny and warm.

And the zoo knows this, which is why we have alligator and other various animal-shaped sport bottles in our kitchen glass cabinet. Every so often along the zoo paths, there is a cart selling lemonade in those cool cups. Cave in – the lemonade is on the verge of sickly sweet, but it’s relatively inexpensive for a souvenir and a drink. Plus you’ll have quiet kids for at least five minutes. Worth it!

If we have a red letter day at the zoo here is what happens: We see the lion roar a giant roar and pace back and forth. The alligators are out (though it’s debatable whether they are real – their stillness is unnerving). The cheetah is on the move. All the lemurs are playing with each other (Zooboomafoo!). The two bears are walking around their cool area. And, finally, we spot the capybara.

There are so many animals at the Cape May County Park and Zoo, you’ll leave a little smarter than you arrived, having added a few species to your knowledge. There’s both a cute factor (snow leopards), a scary one (Burmese python!), and a fun factor (train and carousel rides) – all in all, the zoo is a winner no matter the day or season.

The Cape May County Park and Zoo is open 364 days a year, closed on Christmas. For more information, visit www.capemaycountyzoo.org.


Oopa! for George’s Place

georges

You know you’ve found the right place when a stranger, waiting on the sidewalk for a table at a restaurant, tells you, “You know, this is the best place in town.” George’s Place is a small 10-table Greek restaurant in Cape May that looks like a diner during the day and feels like a taverna at night. “Oopa!”– Greek for “Cheers” – is spoken here.

George Tsiartsionis opened George’s Place in 1968, and has been serving breakfast and lunch for 34 years. He sold it in 2002, to his son-in-law, Yianni Karapanagiotis, who felt dinner service had potential and added it to the menu. Today, Yianni and his “kid” brother, Pete, own three restaurants – George’s Place, offering Greek food; YB (“Younger Brother”), specializing in New American cuisine; and Pano’s, a coffee shop on the Washington Street Mall they opened with their cousin.

A friend and I had dinner at George’s Place earlier this summer. We made reservations, which I strongly recommend. The restaurant takes same-day dinner reservations only, starting at 5 p.m. It caps reservations at 30 per night, so anyone hoping to eat there had better start speed dialing then or put their name on the list in person. To its credit, George’s is precise in setting reservation times, which minimizes waiting. Fair warning, though, late arrivals may need to search out another restaurant.

We arrived seven minutes early for our reservation. Yianni greeted us warmly at the door, welcomed us inside, and pointed to a clock on the wall, politely suggesting we return in seven minutes. Yianni is the big Greek personality who sets the tone for the restaurant. He is funny and irreverent and fond of saying to regulars, “Now don’t give me a hard time,” which they clearly delight in doing.

Our sidewalk enthusiast also gave a hot tip on an appetizer. “Get the flaming cheese,” he suggested. “It’s amazing, my wife and I get it all the time.” Sold, we ordered it. Saganaki is a popular Greek appetizer consisting of grilled kefalograviera cheese doused with ouzo, then set on fire. It’s served with grilled pita. The dish was wonderful, but the “fireworks” was the show-stopper. When the cheese is lit, the staff erupts in “Oopa!” and many of the diners from nearby tables, which is practically everyone in this smallish restaurant, join in. Ours was a five “Oopa!” night. It gets crazier, apparently.

“Once one is lit, the whole dining room says, “I want that,’” Yianni says, creating the potential for a 30- “Oopa!” night!

john

I had the Roast Pork Tenderloin next, Sliced Medallions of Meat marinated in lemon and peppercorns, with Eggplant Orzo (a rice-shaped pasta) and Greek Salad. The pork was tender and flavorful, but, served over a bed of orzo and salad, suffered somewhat of an identity crisis. My friend chose the Lamb Chops, five “lollipop” lamb chops, served with Eggplant Orzo, Tzatziki, a cucumber yogurt sauce and Greek Salad. He loved it. It’s also George’s most popular dish.

We went back to the restaurant a week later for breakfast. There was a 15-minute wait for a table and there were more families with young children on this visit, but, otherwise, our food was just as enjoyable and the service was just as friendly as before. We ate well. I had the Homemade Chipped Beef on whole wheat toast with hash brown potatoes. (I actually search out restaurants for chipped beef, which is not a pastime many of my friends share.) My friend ordered the Breakfast Quesadilla, with two eggs, turkey sausage, peppers, onions, cheddar cheese and tomatoes and mildly spiced salsa on the side. Both dishes were excellent and meal enough for the day.

George’s only accepts cash, so come prepared. We hadn’t known, but were impressed when our waitress graciously told us we could eat first and pay later, and pointed us toward the ATM next door at Uncle Bill’s Pancake House.

Word of Cape May’s small corner of Greece spread to The Food Network in 2010, which featured the restaurant on the show Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. The buzz has put even more people on the sidewalk.

“Instead of 40 people lined up at 4:45 each day, there were 100,” Yianni says. Just imagine a 100-“Oopa!” night.

#####

George’s Place is located at 301 Beach Avenue. It’s open year-round for breakfast and lunch from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. In season, it’s also open for dinner from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m. on weekdays and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on weekends. In winter, it’s open for dinner on weekends. The restaurant is BYOB. Call (609) 884-6088 for reservations.


Racing to Success

racing-header

Photographs appear courtesy of Robert Elwell, Sr. and the Cape May County Historical & Genealogical Society.

In 1905 Cape May was a thriving national seashore resort. Many of the people coming to Cape May were fans of the new automobile or horseless carriages. They would take their cars on the stretch of sand from Madison Avenue to Poverty Beach for a ride.

In the spring of that year invitations went out to automobile owners in the City of Cape May inviting them to attend a meeting for the purpose of forming an automobile organization with the goal of transforming Cape May City beach into a national automobile speedway. As a result, there was an enthusiastic meeting of a large number of auto owners. A. H. Chadbourne was made temporary president. A. G. Batchelder, secretary of the Racing Board of the Automobile Club of America, who traveled all the way from New York to attend the meeting, was the guest speaker. Thus, the Cape May Automobile Club formed with Edward B. Smith of Philadelphia as its president. Jack Hiscock served as secretary. Fred Betz, III, J. N. Wilkins, and A. L. Depew formed a committee to select the vice presidents and to arrange for the details of final organization.

cars-infront-of-admiral-1

The Cape May Hotel (later called the Christian Admiral)

The beach they wanted to make a speedway was a stretch between the Life Saving Station (just east of Madison Avenue) and Sewell’s Point, where the beginning of the Cold Spring Inlet is located at the Coast Guard base today. Cape May’s beach was described as the best beach in the nation. Only the famous Ormond, Florida beach was considered better for racing new machines. As a result, race dates were set for July 29, August 25, and 26. The races would be run against time.

The organization felt extremely happy with the progress they had made in the first few meetings. Their chance of landing some of the country’s top automobile racers to race on the Cape May beaches would put Cape May on the national map. The race would attract some of the best race car drivers and their automobiles in the country.

Mr. Walter Christie was invited to the Cape May Speedway by the Cape May Automobile Club to see if he could break the world’s record for both the mile and kilometer in his famous 180-horsepower (hp) car. This would be the big event that for the first time would bring thousands to Cape May to witness the attempt. Christie felt confident that he could do this by speeding over the Cape May sand. Using his famous car in the Ormond/Daytona course, he drove a mile in 40 seconds (about 90 mph). This was the fastest mile time ever in an American-built gasoline car. It was reported that since that time, he had increased the power in his car and it would be the Cape May beach where the results would be recorded.

In the early racing days there was a famous Dewar challenge cup. At first, many thought Henry Ford would receive the Dewar cup by default since Walter Ross (who won the cup at Ormond) sold his racing car. Walter Christie sent a challenge to Henry Ford to race him on the Cape May beach where the winner would take possession of this prestigious challenge trophy.

focer-in-fords-car

In exchange for lending Henry Ford $400 to pay his hotel bill while staying in Cape May, Ford promised to make Daniel Focer (sitting at the wheel of the car) “the first Ford dealer in America,” and he did. Standing next to him, his partner Jay Mecray. Circa 1915.

The New York Journal reported that Louis Chevrolet would be coming to Cape May for the races in August to try to break the mile and kilometer records established on the Cape May beach in July by Christie. The Journal went on to report that, “Chevrolet will drive the 120 hp Fiat car which finished second in the recent Gordon-Bennett race in France. The car has been shipped from Italy for the Vanderbilt cup race, but is expected to be here in ample time for the Cape May race.”

Several American records were broken on Cape May sands. They were broken by America’s greatest driving experts of that time. But the race that all eyes were upon was the race on August 25, 1905 between Henry Ford, Louis Chevrolet, A. L. Campbell, and Walter Christie. Much was at stake on that summer day, namely prestige for the race car drivers.  As for the spectators, jokes flew back and forth along the boardwalk and knickered kids hollered, “Get a horse!” No one that day realized how historically important that August 25, 1905 would be in automotive history.

Prior to the Cape May Automobile Club organizing, Mr. Winton, of Winton Automobile Works of Ohio, traveled to Cape May to test the beach for a race scheduled for August. Mr. Winton’s car was claimed to hold the world’s record for speed and he brought it with him. After he inspected the beach, he claimed Cape May beach to be the finest racing beach that he had ever found.  Mr. Chadbourne of Philadelphia, who owned “a very handsome car,” was also in Cape May and made daily runs on the beach. Deeply involved in the automobile era, Chadbourne and Winton were looking to enter one of their cars in the Cape May beach races.

Mr. John Hiscock, a Philadelphia newspaperman, followed the race promoters while in Cape May and felt sure that the race would take place on the Cape May beach. D. Leroy Reeves, of the Philadelphia Ledger, also tagged along with the promoters. He claimed that Cape May beach would be the best place for the race. As word got around, eventually 25 machines (cars) came to Cape May with owners interested in the outcome of the test on Cape May beach.

Members of the Cape May Automobile Club pulled out all stops and did everything within their power to make these events a success. The leading automobiles of the Philadelphia, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and New York areas were being readied for action on the Cape May beach speedway when the racing began.

Cape May City and the committees in charge of the racing details worked feverishly with the anticipation of many prominent automobilists who would come to witness Christie’s record trial on the City’s beaches. The club decided that Mr. S. M. Butler, secretary of the Automobile Club of America, would take charge of the timing apparatus which was his usual assignment in big racing events. Mr. M. A. G. Batchelder, from the American Automobile Association (AAA), agreed to act as referee for the races. Mr. G. F. Wagner would act in the capacity as clerk of the course, which he did for all-important race meets in the country.

ford-and-oldfield-on-the-999

Driver Barney Oldfield (seated) and Henry Ford with the Ford 999 Race Car.

The auto club, and really the entire city, was excited about the automobile time trials to be conducted on the Cape May beach speedway. These trials would eventually lead to attempts at breaking the world’s record for speed in gasoline automobiles. Many prominent racing officials came to Cape May to examine its beach to see if it was satisfactory for racing. Among the officials was Robert Lee Morrell, chairman of the racing board of the AAA, who was the leading authority in racing matters in America.

Cape May’s auto club, which arranged for the time trials and races, offered two trophy cups – one to be known as the Cape May Trophy – was valued at $1,000 and the other valued at $500. Both cups were splendid examples of silversmith’s art and designed by J. E. Caldwell of Philadelphia. The Cape May Trophy would be awarded for the best time over a straightaway beach course for one mile. The other cup ($500) called the Kilometer Cup and would obviously be awarded for the best time on the beach’s kilometer course.

The auto club arranged to have seven other events to run the mile course. Amateurs in all makes of cars would be classified as to the horsepower of their cars and they would be trying for the best timed speeds. Chauffeurs and professional drivers would be in other events to show off their talents in handling their employers’ cars. All in all it would be quite a day for Cape May and racing in America. So much excitement was generated in the Philadelphia area that special trains were run on the Pennsylvania Railroad to ensure enthusiasts would get a chance to view the racing at the Cape May Beach Speedway.

Colonel John Tracy, manager of the Lafayette Hotel, said, “The racing would be one of the greatest events in the history of Cape May. I am satisfied that we have the best mile and kilometer course in the country and possibly the world. Should these meetings be held successfully as they now promise to be, a new attraction will be added to the many superior and natural advantages we already possess.”

The race, scheduled for July 29, 1905, was rained out and held the following day.

The Cape May Automobile Club had to get special permission from the AAA to race on a Sunday as the regular rules restricted Sunday racing.

Christie was victorious in his 8 cylinder, 180 hp Blue Flyer and took his great machine over the course several times. In these heats, the times were very close to the record and in three heats his time was 25.2 seconds or 90.72 mph. Finally, as the spectators and officials looked on, he was clocked at 25 seconds flat (89.28 mph) – a new kilometer record.

Christie told a local newspaper reporter, “I am gratified of course, by the performance, but not at all surprised. I believe I can clip a little more off the record on this beach.”

“How about the mile record?” the reporter asked.

“I have always believed I can lower the mile record on the Cape May beach, but conditions must be perfect.” Christie replied.

race3

race4

Waving-flag-with-border

The Cape May Automobile Club sent out entry blanks for a two-day automobile meet and speed test to be held Friday and Saturday, August 25 and 26, under the official sanction of the AAA racing board. There would be a special prize for a free-for-all event for the mile and kilometer opened to the world. A one-mile gymkhana race; standing start; touring cars with three passengers and cars to be run three-eights of a mile. Also on the roster of events – stop car, unload all passengers who would select umbrellas from a barrel, open them before resuming their seats – car to continue as soon as all passengers were seated with umbrellas raised. First car crossing the mile finish line is the winner. If any umbrella was closed, broken, or turned inside out, the car would be disqualified.

According to Carrie Daly’s diary, August 25th, the first day of automobile racing, was fair all morning with rain starting about 11:30. She wrote that it rained very hard all afternoon. As track conditions were spongy from the rain, some of the racers put off racing until the next day.

An estimated 20,000 spectators viewed the first races. The boardwalk was lined for two miles.

Results of the races of August 25th were: Cedrino, in his 20 hp Fiat won the first event; Kelsey, in his Maxwell, made a good show for the second prize. In the second event, open to women, Mrs. C. C. Fitler, in her Packard with 28 hp, won in 56 seconds.

Events 5, 6, and 9 between the great racing experts were postponed, owing to unfavorable conditions. Henry Ford did not put in an appearance. Christie’s machine was not in perfect condition. Louis Chevrolet’s car was out of kilter.

Only Campbell, with his 80 hp Darracq (Red Devil) was in shape to race. Campbell, to please the crowd, went the kilometer distance in 25.8 seconds (86.51 mph) and 25.2 seconds (88.57 mph) His last trial was only one-fifth of a second behind Christie’s American record. However, had he beaten Christie’s record, it would not have counted officially. Christie, who was a favorite of the spectators, went the distance in 26.8 seconds (83.28 mph) and 26 seconds flat  (85.85 mph) with a disabled car.

Cape May was proud of the officials of the Cape May Automobile Club who showed they were capable of handling the biggest events that had ever come to Cape May. According to reports “there were no problems throughout the city except for the rain that fell yesterday afternoon which prevented the breaking of the established speed records of the mile and kilometer.” All persons interested in automobiles said Cape May was destined to be the established home of the sport because the stretch of beach on which the trials was held was the finest in the country.

Due to the sponginess of the track on August 25, the $1,000 Cape May trophy was not offered, but would be up for grabs the next day. Just prior to the races on the 26th, Chadbourne went over the stretch of beach accompanied by a representative of the Daily Wave. It was apparent that the heavy rains also caused “many inequalities to appear,” but those involved in the race decided not to risk disappointing the great crowd assembled.

Campbell, with his Darracq machine, may have proved to have had a slight advantage in the heavy sand. His was said to be the best mud machine and would go best under these conditions. When Campbell’s remarkable time of 38 seconds was announced, a wave of approval swept along the two miles or more of boardwalk that was crowded with spectators.

Later in the race Henry Ford with his Six Cylinder Wonder was going at a terrific pace. Campbell, who pressed him for the lead, had a narrow escape from an accident that might have cost him his life. As the story goes, both were in the stretch of the second heat. Campbell intended to pass Ford on the ocean side. About this time his wheels slipped in water and the machine ran on one set of wheels momentarily, leading many to believe he would flip over. The crowd held its breath, but Campbell skillfully recovered control of his racer. As soon as it was obvious that Campbell was out of danger, racing enthusiasts lining the boardwalk gave him a hearty applause as he returned to the starting point.

In speed trials before Saturday’s race, repeated efforts by Christie and Ford met with disappointment, when they failed to break the time record for the mile. Louis Chevrolet made one effort in his 120 hp Fiat, but his car was disabled in the first heat in which his time was 40.6 seconds.

A Philadelphia newspaper man praised Henry Ford, “This man is a student of speed as well as a demonstrator. He has involved a racing car that has every appearance of having much greater speed than it showed yesterday (August 25, 1905).  It takes a car some time to get tuned up. His new machine just fresh from the factory, had been run over the beach less than a half a dozen times before it was called upon to go against the time. When it gets to working right/well autoists expect great things of it.”

As Henry Ford had promised, he gave Dan Focer who most in Cape May called “Uncle Dan” the nation’s first Ford agency in 1908.  Focer took J. Mecray as a partner who later opened a Ford Agency in Ocean City and one in Cape May Court House. Alec Lyle was told these facts by Dan Focer when he went to work as a car salesman in October of 1921.

In 1908 Ford produced the famous Model T and five years later it became the first car to be mass produced by the moving assembly line system of manufacture.

A local newspaper reported in 1908 that Dr. Emlen Physick sold his 400 acre farm just north of Schellenger’s Landing to Henry Ford of Detroit, Michigan. At the time Ford thought of having a branch manufactory of automobiles. Later he sold the farm to the United States government where Camp Wissahickon was built in 1917 as a Naval Training Station during World War I. This location would be around milepost “0” of the Parkway.

As you walk the promenade on a summer night and if you should happen to be near Madison Avenue it might not be unusual to hear, over the sound of the breaking waves, the ghostly shouts of the crowds egging on the racers driving their new machines – the apparitions might be the likes of J. Walter Christie, A. L. Campbell, Henry Ford, and Louis Chevrolet. historic-endmark

 


The Wetlands Institute

wetlands

When spring blows in, I start itching for the outdoors. Let’s face it, winter is a bit trying on its own. But throw kids into the mix and it’s downright frightening. There are only so many times you can lose to your four-year-old at Candy Land, make brownies, or color a Team Umi Zoomi picture.

Thankfully there are tons of places to go within a short drive of Cape May, so I was super excited to see where my next Day Tripper column would take me. That is until I realized my assignment was to go to the Wetlands Institute.

Hmm, now this is interesting. Or not.

The Wetlands Institute stands like a beacon of nature and relaxing calm in the truly gorgeous and expansive back bay marshes of Stone Harbor. My children stand as beacons of crazy energy, ready to scream, run, and jump as long as possible, and believe me, that’s a long time. How will I merge these two opposite worlds?

I did what any mom would do, I called in backup. Her name is Mom-Mom.

So with Mom-Mom, her husband Michael, Sam and Finn in tow, we hit the road for the short drive north and quickly realized that sometimes all it takes is a few miles to feel like you’ve gone someplace really different. We left Crazyhecticville and in 15 minutes arrived
in the land of house finches, snowy egrets and great blue herons.

wetlands2

The Wetlands Institute sits about a 100 feet back off the causeway leading to Stone Harbor in the salt marshes of the Cape May Peninsula. It’s hard to miss, in part because there aren’t too many buildings on the long, narrow causeway, but mostly because it’s a large, cedar-sided building with colorful grounds and a look-out cupola atop.

As we strolled towards the front entrance, we were impressed by the lush landscape marking the paved path. Marion’s Gardens are award winning and attract birds and butterflies with native plants. Right through the door we were greeted with a smile and given a quick rundown of the place. Our first stop? Marshview Hall for a movie and a talk about birds.

Oh boy, er, boys. Lecture halls generally mean sitting quietly while someone else talks. Mom-Mom, don’t fail me now.

The Wetlands Institute gets this. Clearly, I’m not the first mom with two kinetic boys to walk through the doors. Set up on the opposite side of the room is a television screen, a large sculpture of an osprey holding a fish in its claws (cool), and two telescopes pointing at the osprey nest nearby in the marsh. Sam and Finn ran to the wall of windows and started peeking through the kid-size telescope. That day we saw a baby osprey alone in the nest. Each year the osprey family leaves the nest in late fall and returns in the spring.

 

When it was time to watch the movie, it was a Mom-Mom sandwich as Sam and Finn each sat beside her on folding chairs. There was a bit of grumbling, but nothing a well-packed zip of Cheerios couldn’t resolve. After the movie we headed through the gift shop and out onto the large two-story deck overlooking the marshes and the salt marsh trail, our next destination.

Now it’s one thing to view the expansive marshes from the Institute’s deck, where you are completely safe from, say, accidentally falling into the muddy waters. It’s quite another to hit the trail smack in the marsh, even with the help of our very capable docent, Tom.

Very Capable Docent Tom, meet Sam and Finn Godfrey.

kids

As you walk (or run as it were) along the crushed shell path that begins right off the parking lot (where you’ll find picnic tables) and extends past the Institute quite far into the bay, you are no longer on your turf. You are in shore bird and marsh wildlife territory. Our first inhabitant sighting? A lone white egret walking in the distant marsh.

On any given day you can spot mockingbirds, warblers, sparrows, gulls, hawks, robins, and of course, the resident osprey.

We walked along the shrub-lined path, careful not to touch poison ivy, until we came to a perpendicular bridge that took us, literally, out over the bay.

Two little boys with crazy, unstoppable energy and a four-foot-wide (if that!) path several feet above water? Luckily the tide was low during our visit.

The trip out over the bay was awesome. We spotted tons of Fiddler crabs walking along the bottom sand. Fiddler crabs have one giant claw and one normal size claw – it’s a scene, man. They look like cartoons, sort of like a one arm crab version of Popeye.  Blow me down indeed. We didn’t spot any terrapins that time, but they are out there too, along with many other species of wildlife.

terrapin

At the end of the clam shell path there are kayaks for taking tours through the marshes, one of the best ways to mingle with the birds, crabs, fish and terrapins.

When we returned to the main building, and said our goodbyes to Tom, we headed up stairs onto the cupola to see the marsh from a real birds eye view.

The steps up are plenty, but there is a detailed mural of sea life painted all over the stairwell walls to distract you. At the top, the wind wasn’t too gusty and we were able to see a panoramic of the green marshes. There is a well-placed white birdhouse up there too for some good bird watching.

telescopeThe Wetlands Institute along with Stockton College conducts a Diamondback terrapin conservation project. Each summer college students from across the US come to assist the animals who fall victim to the commercial crabbing industry and coastal development. From the Institute’s first level deck, you can head into Terrapin Station, where you’ll find a big tank with loads of active Diamondback terrapins you can check out up close, something that’s not so easy when you see terrapins in the wild – they usually hide from onlookers. Sam and Finn had a blast watching the terrapins swim in the tank and step on each other. Mom-Mom gave them a few dollars to “feed” the terrapin sculpture – a donation that goes directly to the Institute.

One of the best things about the Wetlands Institute? They have a room set back off the main path that’s set up with kid-friendly tables and chairs. On the tables are rub ons of various fish and sea life, crayons, scissors and paper.

Mom-Mom, Mike, Sam, Finn, and I all sat down at the end of our visit and made souvenirs to take home. It was a fun, calm end to a very cool day.

Like George Washington, I cannot tell a lie. Anyhoo, I’m big on truth, so I’ll admit that after hearing we were going to The Wetlands Institute, I immediately thought B.O.R.I.N.G. Of course, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The Wetlands Institute is filled with super-fun activities for all ages and in three hours, my family took advantage of almost everything offered the day of our visit and we’re ready to come back for more.  historic-endmark