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Category: Leisure

Biking the Island

Biking the Avenue

Distance: 4.4 miles
Time: 8:30 a.m.

I would rank Beach Avenue as the easiest bike ride for visitors. For one thing, you can roll out of bed and, without having to do too much thinking about where you are going, enjoy a nice morning bike ride.

My cycling partner Macy and I arrive at my old friend Dennis Flynn’s Village Bicycle Shop on Lafayette Street around 8:30 a.m. to rent our bikes. Our ride, therefore, begins at Ocean and Lafayette streets, continuing down to Beach Avenue where we turn left and sail on without incident until we reach the end of the avenue, at what locals smilingly refer to as, Poverty Beach. Yeah smilingly, because it is so not impoverished. Anything but, really.

It is a beautiful August morning and the heat of the day has not yet taken hold. As we make our way back up the avenue toward the Cove, at Second and Beach, we realize that we are awfully hungry and can’t help noting the abundance of choices for breakfast along the way, which of course makes us all the hungrier. Starting with Pier House at Beach and Pittsburgh avenues, anyone looking for breakfast with a view will not be disappointed. Other choices include the Harry’s Ocean Bar and Grill, McGlade’s, George’s and Uncle Bill’s Pancake House (both at Perry Street and Beach), Ocean View Restaurant and last, but certainly not least, the Cove Restaurant.

It’s been a while since either Macy (who is 20 something) or I (considerably older than 20 something), have been biking and we are thrilled to have navigated our way through traffic without endangering ourselves or any innocent drivers, pedestrians or fellow cyclists right up to moment we cross over Beach Avenue and bike onto the Promenade.

Biking on the Promenade is permitted from 4 a.m. to 10 a.m. and let me just say, it’s a good thing we both had our sea legs by the time we set our course down that path, because by 9 a.m. it is painfully clear that we’re not the only ones with the brilliant idea of getting some exercise with a view of the beach and the ocean to inspire us along the way.

It takes some skill to maneuver among groups of six, to whom the concept of single file, or even two by two, is lost in their enthusiasm to converse. Or to avoid a collision course with the quintessential biking family – mother, father, older brother or sister and baby biker, whose trike or two-wheeler with training wheels, all too often zigzags across the pavement in a pattern hard to predict for the person trying to pass and get out of harm’s way. I dare not even venture to look behind me to see how Macy is faring, but she apparently manages because we make it to Sunset Pavilion and are pleased as punch with ourselves. So pleased, that after sitting for a spell and watching the other bikers make their way to the end of the “road,” we cannot resist rewarding ourselves with breakfast from The Cove Restaurant. Hmm. There is nothing like French toast covered with maple syrup or eggs over easy to quell the shock of suddenly doing physical exercise.

It’s time to get back to work. Yes, this biking is on company time. Hey! It’s a tough assignment, but someone has to do it. Emboldened with success and food, we bravely bike into traffic and proceed straight up Beach Avenue to return our bikes. Except for beach goers crossing the street, we breeze along and make it back to the Village Bike Shop in no time. Total trip including breakfast and gawking at the ocean was about an hour and 15 minutes. A word to the wise, always be on the lookout for the car door that can suddenly pop open and clock you as you obliviously try to speed on by.

Biking at Sunset: Sunset Boulevard, the scenic route

Distance: 6.9 miles
Time: 6 p.m.

Now this is what I’m talkin’ about. A little more difficulty, far fewer people, gorgeous scenery and great scents.

We pick up our bikes at the Village Bicycle Shop around 6 p.m. Denny encourages us not to bike along Lafayette to Perry to Sunset Boulevard, but to instead take the scenic route. Who are we to question the bike man? And so Macy and I set off along Elmira Street. We only get as far as Cape May Creek when Macy and I stop to look at the beautiful white heron in the creek. We cross Park Boulevard to Leaming Street. We are now in West Cape May, what used to be, and still is, just not as much so – the agricultural part of the island. What a pretty street Leaming is. It seems each house has a doll house-like quality with a pretty garden in front. Now for the brave part of this exhibition – crossing Broadway. No problem. We find ourselves twisting around until we are on Sixth Avenue with a large open field on our right, very few cars, and the quiet of twilight beginning to descend and the rich smell of nature all about us.

“Wait! What’s that, Macy? Are those pigs?” For full disclosure I should share with you the fact that Macy and I are not the most agile, graceful cyclists you’ve ever seen. It takes us each at least four push offs to get going. And stopping? Hmm. Sometimes, when excited, we just jump off without braking, tangling ourselves about the bikes like a contortionist without a sense of direction. Perhaps we can invest in bumper stickers for the back of the bikes, something like: We brake for piglets. And we did.

Apparently it’s dinnertime for Momma and her baby piglets, plus there seems to be an overprotective aunt looming about as well. How very cool is this? Thrilled with our find, we continue on down Sixth, make a quick left onto Bayshore Road and a quick right onto Stevens Street. We are now truly in the heartland of Cape May’s agriculture scene. Rea’s Farm is dead ahead and dominates the landscape along Bayshore and Stevens, but just a little further up the road and we are in farm country. Beach Plum Farm and Willow Creek Winery are located along Stevens Street. There is not a car in sight, except those in the driveways as we approach a more residential area of the street, and it is so quiet you can hear the crickets in the distance telling us night will be upon us soon. The end of Stevens Street is also home to Cape May Carriage Company and that brings us to Sunset Boulevard. We check the time and it is not even 7 o’clock. So, we adjust our trip to include the Cape May Lighthouse. Crossing Sunset Boulevard we again opt for the scenic route and take Sea Grove Avenue to Lighthouse Road.

Sea Grove Avenue is my FAVORITE road and I do forgive it for being in Lower Township not Cape May, West Cape May or Cape May Point. A sense of peace comes over me as we turn the corner and smell the honeysuckle. It’s just me and Macy and the sound of birds getting ready to turn in, but the moment doesn’t last long enough and before we know it, we are on Lighthouse Road heading to this wonderful monument to the past. I love this area and especially love looking at the Lighthouse keeper’s house, wondering what life out here in this desolate area must have been like for him and his family.

Macy doesn’t let me wonder too long, however, because it’s time to make our way to Sunset Beach for the Evening Flag Ceremony. The lowering of the American flag is a 43-year-old tradition and Marvin Hume has been at the mast for 35 of those years. The 86-year-old Hume owns the property at Sunset Beach which includes a couple of gift shops, a clothing boutique and Sunset Beach Grill, where Macy and I break to have a light dinner (well Fish and Chips, not so light, but awfully good) while watching the setting sun and the many travelers who begin to arrive by car, by foot, and by bike to witness this miracle of nature and partake in a little slice of patriotism, the Cape May way.

A few minutes before sunset a loudspeaker goes on and someone, sometimes Marvin Hume, sometimes someone else, explains the ceremony and introduces the family who will help lower the flag that night. All the flags flown at the mast are veterans’ casket flags donated by the families of the deceased. There are always, as there is on this night, representatives of the deceased veteran. Mr. Hume asks which of the children feel they are most able to help lower the flag, and afterwards he shows the family how to properly fold it. Kate Smith can be heard over the loudspeaker singing God Bless America and that is followed by the Star Spangled Banner. Gentlemen are asked to remove their hats. Most stand with hands over hearts. The flag, the sunset and the honored. Is there any better way to end your day here in our little slice of Paradise?

Because it has been a long day and it is now a little after 8 o’clock, Macy and I bike straight down Sunset Boulevard into Cape May and lock our bikes at Denny’s shop.

Biking to Higbee Beach

Distance: 7 miles
Time: 7:30 a.m.

Although Denny is at the helm, Macy and I have our locks for the bikes we used the night before. Again, it is a lovely morning and the heat and humidity which will make the afternoon sticky and stifling are absent. We make our way back down Elmira to Park and wind our way around to Broadway turning left onto Stimpson Lane. We are so lucky because there is virtually no traffic on the roads and in no time we turn right onto Bayshore Road, again in front of Rea’s Farm and buzz on down to New England Road. Macy and I cannot get over the rich smells of the country and sea air and as we get closer and closer to Higbee Beach, a quiet comes over the countryside, broken only by the delightful (I never use this word, so when I say delightful, I mean it) sounds of song birds. I feel like I’ve just stepped into a scene from Snow White. Soon I will be dancing with the birds and they’ll be helping me to make a dress for the ball.

We park our bikes and make our way down one of the paths which ends at the beach. I never get over that. You are walking through what I perceive to be the woods, and then there is a clearing over a little crest of a hill and the beach, the ocean and sky greet you like long lost friends. It was my intention to have a picnic breakfast on the beach, but something went wrong with that idea – like the fact that I didn’t get up early enough. What a wonderful way to start the work day, or any day for that matter.

Now, we ARE plagued with saddle sores on the trip back, but it’s our own fault for doing nothing for weeks on end and then trying to vie for Olympic biking champ status three days running.

I urge all of you – be you locals or visitors – to get on that bicycle and explore the island and parts nearby. Cape May is perfect. It is relatively flat and incredibly beautiful and diverse, plus you’ll save on gas and get the blood to the arteries. Anyway you look at it, it’s a good thing.


Sweaters on Legs: Alpaca Farming in West Cape May

This is an abridged version of A Different Kind of Farm, which was first published in the Spring 2007 issue of Cape May Magazine. Text by Karen Fox.


Ever since she was a little girl in Ohio, Barbara Nuessle wanted to live on a farm. It would be 50 years before Barbara – with a stroke of luck – found the farm of her dreams. “I really thought I was going to raise horses,” she says. Instead she raises alpacas with her husband Warren. alpacas-groupshotNow 14 years later, the gold and green sign on New England Road says, “Bay Springs Farm Open.”

There’s a long clamshell lane that bridges over a spring-fed pond, and at the end sits a handsome cedar-shake farm-style house that Warren designed with wrap-around porches. Warren can be seen moving quickly to his commercial mower that he operates about three hours a day to keep up with the fast-growing lawn and pasture.

Barbara is standing at the fence on her 10 acres in the Cape May countryside admiring her alpaca herd – especially the new-born babies on wobbly legs. The other members of the herd are kicking up their heels in the meadow sprouting green in the warm spring sun. The delights of this perfectly picturesque setting are the alpacas walking, their heads up high. The little ones break away, necking and rollicking along the fence row. Barbara loves hanging out on the fence. The alpacas are mesmerizing. They are so quiet. The color of their thick fleece has a wide range: white, beige, light fawn, dark fawn, light brown, dark brown, rose gray, silver gray and black.

Why alpacas?

“My first impression was sweaters on legs,” says Barbara with a chuckle. As a serious knitter with an understanding of excellent yarn, salpacas-ewokhe knew alpacas grow a fine fleece that rivals cashmere in luxurious feel and durability.

The year was 1993, and the Nuessles decided to buy 10 acres of the old Doug and Carol McPherson farm, one of the last working dairies in Cape May County, which in 1993 grew lima beans.

Instead of planting lima beans, springtime at Bay Springs Farm now means shearing time when professionals are called in. Each alpaca produces five to ten pounds of fleece. The fleece is sorted and prepared to be spun into yarn for knitting, crocheting and weaving. Eventually the Nuessles’ homegrown fleece is available at their Farm Store at the rear of their home. Artfully arranged are skeins of alpaca yarn in soft colors plus items that Barbara has knitted herself. There are alpaca blankets, sweaters, socks, booties, mittens and scarves handmade in Peru.

Alpaca farming is an everyday commitment to nurturing. The barnyard chores come first, no matter how severe the weather. One 18-degree morning this past February, Barbara was up with the first streaks of dawn to see snow blowing sideways. “No golf for Warren today,” she said at breakfast. The bay winds cut icy swaths across their fields and into their layered barn clothes. Warren rides the golf cart, juggling buckets of warm water for the boys in the front pasture, but finds they have taken shelter in the barn. Barbara totes pails of hot water to the girls and their young ones snuggled inside. “Alpacas love the cold, but they don’t like wind and snow,” she said. Barbara mucks the barn and puts down fresh sawdust for the girls.

alpacas-barbaraIt’s 10 o’clock, time for alpaca breakfast: Barbara pours 10 pounds of feed into a large bucket, mixes in some minerals, and parcels out a cup or two into individual feeders. She scatters some hay, and a top dress of alfalfa, a gourmet treat. By 10:30 a.m., Barbara is peeling off her chore clothes, then ordering a case of kale and carrots for the herd. She’s off to the grocery store to pick up provisions, making a stop at the post office to mail fleece samples for a national yarn competition. Before a lunch of produce from last summer’s garden, Barbara and Warren bundle up again to check the alpacas, all snug and humming, as they do when they are happy, and stock up the many birdfeeders dotting the landscape.

Before and after 4 p.m. chore time, Barbara catches up on computer work: ads and photos for studs for hire, and for sale. She preps for an alpaca association teleconference from 8 – 11 p.m. She takes a look out at the barn at midnight. All is well, though the Bay winds howl. She curls up with a book and can’t wait to do it all over again tomorrow. Alpaca farming is a labor of love.

Mild-tempered and gregarious as alpacas are, they have their eccentricities. It’s true, they spit, Barbara confirms, rarely at humans – but occasionally at each other. alpacas-restingThe spit is chewed up grass, odorous, but harmless. It’s their immediate defense system. They are herd animals but like their own space, especially when lounging in the barn.

Though located off the beaten path, Bay Springs Farm plays host to more than 3,500 knitters, spinners, tourists and families who want their children to see the alpacas. The farm is located in one of the only remaining natural dune forests, bordered by the 1,500-acre Higbee Beach Wildlife Management Area on one side, and the preserved Hidden Valley Ranch on the other.

“We just never know who might be dropping in,” says Barbara. “And you never know who is knitting these days. A lot of young people are taking up knitting because they appreciate handmade things, and they knit for social reasons. They call their groups ‘Stitch ‘n Bitch.’ Boys, too, are knitting. I had an 11 year-old customer who was totally into fiber and interested in becoming a designer.”

Planners that they are, Barbara and Warren have taken steps to preserve their dream-come-true for future alpacas-babygenerations. Bay Springs Farm is now part of the New Jersey Farmland Preservation Program, which protects it from development. Their 10 acres joins the hundreds of preserved acres on their boundaries. The goal is to keep the fields and forest as they are forever.

Dreams? Well, Barbara got a horse of her own at age seven. He was a brown and white Pinto named Chuck-A-Luck, which she rode every day. “My horses were my loves,” she says thinking about those days. Today, when she walks out and gazes upon her herd, it’s easy to see who her new loves are.


Visit Bay Springs Farm online at www.bayspringsalpacas.com


All Aboard! The train is now leaving the station

redtrainfaceThe Cape May Seashore Lines’ train is totally cute… and you should ride it.

You should take the train in the rain.
You should take train if you have kids.
You should take the train if you live here.
You should take the train if you live over there somewhere.

Oh? You want to know more? Who am I, you say? Why should you take my word? All right, if you insist, I’ll tell you more.

For one thing, the train ride is a nice way to go back in time. On the Saturday I took the train, I rode Number 304 – The Mermaid – departing from Cape May City Rail Terminal, located at Lafayette and Elmira Street – one block west from the Washington Street Mall. The rail terminal shares space with New Jersey Transit, Cape May’s Welcome Center and the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Cape May.

advertismentThe Mermaid was manufactured by the Budd Co. back in the 1950s.  Most of the cars currently available do date back to the 50s, although restoration work has just begun on the the “Blue Comet” observation car built in 1927 to make runs from Jersey City to Atlantic City for the Central Railroad of New Jersey. For those not in the know, an observation car has a platform on the back with leather straps for passengers to hold on to when the train is in motion. Politicians used these cars for “whistle stop tours” passing through towns throughout the United States stumping for votes.

But back to The Mermaid.  I caught the train on a Saturday in July as a way to get to the annual 4-H Fair being held at the Cape May County Park fairgrounds (the Cape May County Zoo is also located here).

redtrainI fell in love the second I saw the engine. It’s so cute and red with neat character lines distinguishing it from other train cars. As an aside, I should tell you that I’m an old-hand at train riding – as a means of transportation that is. I grew up riding Amtrak’s “The Pennsylvanian” from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia to New York to Washington D.C. so, I’m used to Amtrak’s sleek silvery “not-so-cute” engine and cramped, often “not-so-clean,” train cars.

While waiting on the platform of the Cape May City Rail Terminal, I peeked inside the passenger car. The seats are blue leather and spacious. There is leg room – lots of leg room – and wide aisles. The train car itself is much smaller than the Amtrak cars. Seats face each other, so a maximum of four people (or six if they’re little) share seating arrangements.

chairsI notice people are beginning to line up, so I join them.

The door opens and the ticket taker and conductor come out. They’re even cuter than the engine. The conductor has a little hat (which the company pays for) and uniform (which the company does not pay for). The ticket taker has a neat vest and both men are all smiles.

I take my seat and immediately start snapping pictures. The train pulls out at precisely 2 p.m. The conductor, who turns out to be one David Diano, welcomes us aboard The Mermaid.  Diano is the senior conductor for Seashore Lines. He is in charge of training other conductors. What’s involved in the training?

conductor2“Well,” he says, “there’s the paperwork. Then the I let the conductor work with me to see what I do. And there’s the paperwork.”

Our ticket taker is Bill Heller. A round-trip ticket to Historic Cold Spring Village he says is $5 for adults, $4 for children 12 and under.  For an $8 adult fare, $5 for children, the train goes all the way to the 4-H Fairgrounds Rail Station, 1 mile north of Cape May Court House, adjacent to the west entrance of the County Park and Zoo and the last stop.

Once the train pulls out of the station, I am struck by how pretty the scenery is. Even Home Depot looks good on this train. Again, I can’t help comparing it to the train rides I’ve taken before and I can assure you the urban blight that I’m accustomed to is for the most part absent on this journey. There are a few sore spots around Rio Grande, but otherwise, the rider is treated to vineyards,
trees, and the backyards of people’s homes.

tickettakerThe best view is crossing the Cape May Canal Moveable Bridge. The info tape, which plays sporadically throughout the trip informs the rider that the bridge was built in 1943 to protect the canal from Japanese submarines prowling the east coast during WWII. The train comes to a stop just short of the canal so that the bridge can be moved into place and then we’re off again.

To make an afternoon of it, you can catch the train in Cape May, get off at Historic Cold Spring Village, tour the village, have lunch at the Grange Restaurant and catch the train back. Or, you can catch it and ride further to the Cape May County Park and Zoo. Just one word of caution, mind your timing because on this particular Saturday, as it turns out, the afternoon train departing Cape May and arriving at the 4-H Fairgrounds at 3 p.m., ended up being the last train leaving the fairgrounds that was Cape May bound. So, I never did get to the 4-H Fair, but truth be told, I knew that before I started.

canaltrianbridgeThe one thing that disappointed me was the dining car had gone AWOL. I really wanted to have tea on the train. Just my luck, the Cafe was down for repairs. Conductor Diano said it needed a new compressor. Still, spending the afternoon with the “little red engine that could” is time well-spent.

For more information and schedules, contact Cape May Seashore Lines at 609-884-CMSL or visit their website (which has very cool pictures of the various engines) at www.capemayseashorelines.org


Cape May Nightlife

My date and I spent a rainy Saturday night in June hitting some of the bars in Cape May  that we think single people looking for a good time should try out. We were on foot, so we focused our attention on a few that are found on and around Beach Ave.

Our trek started at the King Eddy (King Edward Room in the Chalfonte Hotel, Howard Street, 2 kingeddyblocks from the beach). This Southern Plantation style building, celebrating its 127th anniversary this season, is host to several musical events every summer. At the end of a typical performance the audience spills out of the Henry Sawyer Room into the King Eddy, so, by 10ish the place is usually happenin’ — it’s a theater-going kind of happenin’, laid back, sophisticated, cozy.  Tonight Paul Klineburger is tending bar and he makes a super Mint Julep (in the style of the Old South)

But on this particular Saturday night, it really isn’t happenin’. For a couple of reasons.  One, it’s only 9:30 for heaven’s sake, but we had to start somewhere. Two, the Henry Sawyer Room was dark this night so it was really only hotel guests and passers-by filling the bar and the tables.  After a bit of chat with the bar customers, we finished our drinks and move on.  But we say don’t miss the King Edward.  Especially when Jilline Ringle begins her cabaret run at the Chalfonte on July 2.

Off we go to Cabanas on the Beach – four blocks away at Beach and Decatur.  When we arrive, “The Jinx” is just getting ready to start their first set.  Scott, the man in charge wants to know if we want to buy a VIP card – a pass for whenever they have a cover charge.  We decline.

The bar is full and the tables alongside the bar are quickly filling up. There is a constant buzz jinx2around the pool tables at the far end of the room. The crowd at Cabanas varies according to who’s on stage. On this night the mood is young and single. By the middle of The Jinx’s first set, girls are standing against the rail facing the band. Tattooed Ronnie who shares vocals with Kelly works the room like a segment on American Idol leaping off the stage and making his way around the bar – mike in hand. By the end of their second set, the dance floor is crowded. It’s noisy and jumping but we must move on. We finish our drinks and just four steps down the pavement is the stairway to Martini Beach.

Conveniently, Martini Beach is right above Cabanas. Jason, our bartender informs us, this restaurant/bar, is a classier place to linger.  A mermaid hangs over the bar.  A neon martini glass lights the far wall.  By the time we arrive, dinner (which by the way is served in a small narrow room with an ocean-view shared by the bar) is over; so the music is cranked up – a mix of Disco and 80s funk.  No dance floor, so I’m forced to sway and move my head as though only the upper half of me could dance. But it’s fun…

My date takes a drag on his unfiltered Camel, sits back in his chair, looks over and says, “You’re scaring me.”  His fears are squelched after he gets a taste of “Mickey’s Dirty Little JasonSecret,” a vodka martini with olive juice and giant olives served straight up. I have a Key Lime Martini which tastes just a little too much like Key Lime Pie.  Duuuhhhh . What did I think it was going to taste like? Key lemon? I prefer “Mickey’s Dirty Little Secret” …but I manage to drain my Key Lime thing… no problem.

I could have stayed in this small, intimate room the rest of the night. The crowd is mixed–  30s,40s, 50s, locals, tourists, people looking for a nice place to hang and talk. Kinda nice. Hmmmm.  No no. Duty calls. We must be off!  But not very far at all.

All rightie then. Carney’s and Carney’s Other Room are just a few more steps away after I manage to deal with the long narrow stairway down from Martini Beach.  We open the door to “Carney’s Other Room” first. Now, you know the place is having an off night when everyone – all six of them – look up from their drinks as you as though you were the newest stranger in town. “Ahh, on second thought, I think we’ll go on over to the other Carney’s.  Not the Other Room Carney’s – the original – well maybe it wasn’t that Carney’s. But the one … next door… whatever!”

We approach the door minder who wants five bucks a pop for a cover; or we can pay  $25 for a VIP card. We negotiate. It’s an assignment after all.

O.K. Let me just say that tonight – if you’re looking to be where the action is – this is the place to be. “Bigg Romeo” is just finishing a bigg set. The dance floor is mobbed with beautiful young people having a great time.  The place absolutely exudes sensuality from the tacky flashing lights on the dance floor to the cave-like decor to the gorgeous babe dancing in the tight T-shirt with the cowboy hat .

I am tempted to switch to club soda. But then I can’t comment on the drinks. Hhmmmm. So I order something light. Suffice to say it’s chilled and wet.  Besides the drinks are secondary to the band and the crowd.  Wait – did I just see a girl in a wedding gown? No. I saw two girls in wedding gowns. Who knew?

June, as we all know, is El primo wedding month and it’s also the time when young brides, carneysbridetheir grooms, and their entire wedding parties move on to Carney’s for some after-wedding-party partying. The one bride is named Karen Stoner- her first time using her new name we figure since she and her new hubby just came from the Southern Mansion where their reception was held. She says she really doesn’t have time to talk. Even if she wanted to, I couldn’t hear her; so I had her write her name on my notepad.

We must leave Carney’s before Bigg Romeo takes to the stage again. It’s getting late and we still have more stops to make. Besides I’ve been made!  People are asking me why I’m trying to take notes in a bar after midnight.  Well fercryinoutloud, the tape recorder idea didn’t work, that’s why!

The Rusty Nail is kind of a locals’ bar, at the west end of town on Beach Ave near Broadway, which puts it kind of out of the loop for bar-hopping. If you can manage the 6 block walk however, it’s worth the effort.

First of all, it has breathing room. A big hackin’ horseshoe bar, large dance floor, spacious dining room, and the management  generally books some really good music.  Tonight it’s the sindiraymondSindi Raymond Band.  This couple — I don’t know if they’re a “couple,” but he’s a boy and she’s a girl and there are two of them O.K.? — this couple has a fresh, smooth sound.  They’ve played in Wildwood since the mid 90s but are new to Cape May.  Even though we’re approaching 1 a.m. the bar is still full.  People seem pretty mellow but shortly the crowd thins. Everybody is liking the music.

Unfortunately, we can’t stay long, I have two more stops before closing time. Tyring to clear my head a bit, we saunter back along Beach to Perry and go downstairs to the Boiler Room in boilerroomthe Congress Hall Hotel.  My first impression was that I had just crashed someone’s wedding. My date didn’t have that sense since by now, I think he was approaching senseless. He plants himself at the bar while I go to investigate.

I hear the band but I can’t find them. How is that possible?  A semicircle of gorgeous sophisticated young adults, girls in long slinky dresses, guys in suits and tuxes – are all standing facing away from the bar. I make my way to the far corner, still following the sound and there they are! – The Benderz – down in the orchestra pit. Well, not really an orchestra pit, but a place that’s certainly set below sea level. I sense if I’m not careful I’ll trip into the band.

Apparently the happy couple are from Texas, or one of them is from Texas. In homage to this, The Benderz sing a pretty good rendition of Garth Brooks’  “I Got Friends In Low Places.”  I benderzwould say that on a normal, non-wedding kind of a Saturday night, this would certainly be on my “A-list” of places to stop and even on this night, everyone is having a great time and it’s infectious. I want to stop now and stay a while longer… Can’t.

Our last stop (it’s going on 2 a.m.) is the Ugly Mug. I figure this late at night, it must be pretty ugly by now. Well, it is, but not in the way I thought it would be.  We’ve been to “the Mug” before and know more than a few of the namesakes on the hanging mugs personally. Great local bar. But this night we’ve gotten there just a bit too late. Just a handful of people left, who prod the guitar player, Wesley Ochs, to play “Sweet Caroline,” and a bunch of lame requests.  When we hear him saying, “I can only play so many Jimmy Buffet songs in one night!” we figure it’s time to go home. Besides, I’m feeling like the night is SO OVER now anyway. I’m really, really glad we walked. I could never find my car keys or even my car.

That was our Saturday night in Cape May. We hit fewer than half of in-season Cape May night spots Though I got a fat headache from the assignment, I’m ready for Part II.

A couple sober tips for newbies in Cape May: The local newspapers are full of info on who’s playing where.  But be sure to log onto CapeMayAfterDark.com. It’s the web site to keep abreast of “what’s happening where” at night in Victorian Cape May.


Inside Cape May’s Wineries

It’s harvest time in Cape May. Not tomatoes, corn or lima beans but grapes. Chardonnays, Sauvignon Blancs, White Rieslings, Merlots. Grapes from which fine wines are made.
harvesting

Vineyards are popping up in Cape May County. The look is unmistakable. Rows and rows of wooden framed wire fencing with green vines stretching across them. You can see them driving along Seashore Road, Townbank Road, Jonathan Hoffman Road and Railroad Avenue in Rio Grande.

It all started in the late 1980s, according to Bill Hayes, of Cape May Wineries, when Dr. Joe Fiolla from Rutgers University’s Cook College presented findings that the soil in Cape May County tested well for suitability in growing a variety of grapes. “I had already retired from the Coast Guard,” said Hayes,crushing9 “and we owned Howey’s Nursery in the Villas.” Looking for another challenge, they sold the nursery and started planting grape vines on their 10-acre Townbank Road property.

“We started out with 7 rows of experimental planting and opened up July 1st, 1995 as a commercial winery.” Currently, 8 of the 10 acres of land are planted. “It costs $20,000 to plant one acre of grapes and that’s just getting it into the ground. Then there’s the processing.”

“It’s a labor of love,” said Joan Hayes, “And a tough way to make a living. It took six years before we realized a cash flow on the positive side.”

Recently, recognition is flowing their way. Cape May Winery’s 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon took the gold in the 2001 New Jersey Governor’s Cup competition. Their wines have been lauded in Forbes Magazine and the National Public bottles2Radio broadcast of “Splendid Table.” They are not daunted by competition as new vineyards crop up. “We’d like to seem more vineyards come here and use the land for agriculture not condominiums,” she said. “There’s plenty of room for all of us. Wines are distinctive. Some may like the taste of ours and some the taste of someone else’s. We’re glad to see the other growers are planting grapes to make premium wines not hybrids.” In other words, a cheaper and mass marketable brand.

Such is the case with Sara and Salvatore Turdo, who just harvested their first crop last month. In 1999 they cleared 4.5 acres. That translates to 4,500 vines of the finest European grapes, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Viognier (a grape similar to Chardonnay). He has also planted grapes from his native Italy – Nebbiolo and Dolcetto from Northern Italy and Sangiovese from  Tuscany.

Unlike Cape May Winery, their site at Jonathan Hoffman Road will not have a tasting room. “We are really interested in wholesaling our wines to local restaurants. We’ve planted fewer grapes in the hopes of making a name for ourselves and to produce the finest wine possible.”antiquegrapechrusher

Having recently received their winery license, the Turdos will market their wine under the name “Turis.” The Chardonnays should be ready, he said, by early June. The aging process will require another 18 months for the reds to be saleable.

An electrical contractor in Bergen County, NJ, Turdo hopes to retire to Cape May in two years and devote all his energies to making wine as his father did before they came to America.
“You know,” he said, “when you get to be 40, the taste of beer becomes boring. I started to long for the wines I grew up with. I remembered a lot from my childhood and started making wine at home. But to grow your own grapes and make a vintage wine. That’s a goal!”

As it is now, he admits “It’s a challenge. It’s just me and my wife coming down on weekends, mostly and looking for help for the harvest. Mr. and Mrs. Hayes have been very helpful.” As Sara harvesting3Turdo gets on the bullhorn announcing to the grape pickers that lunch is served, her husband looks over his vineyard. “It’s very hard down here because the state of New Jersey doesn’t offer the help that other states like New York and Pennsylvania do for their wine makers. I know for a fact that New York offers grants. We seem to be on our own down here.” The Turdos picked Cape May County over Long Island because of the extended growing season here and an already entrenched tourist trade. “Right here in Cape May,” said Turdo, “you have the longest growing season in New Jersey with temperatures that don’t drop below freezing until November. It’s perfect for a large variety of grapes.”

Arthur “Toby” Craig, owner of the prestigious Washington Inn Restaurant, already known for having one of the largest wine cellars in Southern New Jersey, has also planted a vineyard this spring. Five acres of Chardonnay and Merlot are already planted with plans for other varieties of French and Spanish grapes. “Really,” said his son Michael Craig, “The vineyards [act as] anbsgrapes ambiance for the grounds which we intend to use for catering weddings and other functions. We’re about two years away from our first harvest. We haven’t really decided which direction we’re going.”

Acres of vineyards stretch along the back of the Craig property. A large barn was built on the site to accommodate gatherings. A small pond and herbal garden separate the grounds providing guests with a bucolic backdrop for mingling, strolling and enjoyment. Craig also agreed that although Joan and Bill Hayes as well as the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Agency have been helpful, “You are out there on your own,” when it comes to information and advice in deciding how best to proceed.

One of the reasons for this isolation is that there are so few vineyards compared to the number of vegetable farms, according to Russell Blair, the Cape May County Extension Agent. The research, therefore, tends to be in the area with the largest concentration of farms. “In New Jersey’s case,” he said, “that would be vegetable crops. Pennsylvania research specializes in field crops, and yes, New York has a very large concentration of vineyards and commercial wineries, so they offer far more resources in that area.” Additionally, when someone leaves a position,vines Blair said, it takes a long time to replace them. “My own position,” he said, “was open for two years”.

In the case of finding a wine specialist or small fruit researcher, the position could take even longer to fill. Dr. Fiolla has since left Rutgers for a position in Maryland. The closest wine specialist today is Dr. Larry Pavlis in Atlantic County. “As it stands now,” said Blair, “the only winery in Cape May County is the Hayes’ Cape May Winery. Another one is scheduled to come on board soon in Green Creek. I believe the Turdos just received their winery license and three other vineyards are being planned.”

“That’s another reason why we’d love to see more vineyards come to Cape May,” said Joan Hayes,” or, for that matter, the state of New Jersey. As we grow, so will the dollars spent on research. The vineyards in New York are well supported by Cornell University and we hope someday we’ll have the same relationship with Rutgers here in Cape May County, but that takes time.”

manontracktor3Pointing to the lush acres of grapes before her and the tractor pulling a wagon filled with buckets of White Riesling grapes, Joan Hayes, says, “Shouldn’t we do everything we can to encourage use of the land for agriculture? Don’t we have enough condominiums?”

If you go…

The Cape May Winery and Vineyards are located at 709 Townbank Road in North Cape May. Phone: 609-884-1169. The winery is open Monday though Saturday from 11am – 5pm for sales. Wine tasting hours are Friday and Saturday from 11am – 5pm. Please call ahead if you are inquiring about sales.


Resorting in Cape May

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Robert Heinly, an interpreter and Museum Education Coordinator for the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts, is an authority on the life in Cape May during last half of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

This month and next cars by the hundreds will stream into Cape May. Once parked (an adventure in itself), tourists will browse in tiny and quaint shops along the Washington Street Mall, and frequent restaurants all over town. Families with small children will gather along the water’s edge, building sandcastles and swimming in the surf. Horse-drawn carriages will take passengers for leisurely sightseeing trips through the city’s bed and breakfast-lined streets. Ice cream, salt-water taffy and fudge will satisfy their sugar cravings.

Summer in Cape May is a calming yet vibrant experience. Being a tourist in Cape May means making memories in a place distinctly different from home. A century ago, in the Victorian age when American society emulated that of Great Britain, tourists flocked to Cape May too, foregoing the crowded streets of Philadelphia and New York for the calm cool breezes of the southern New Jersey coast.

From 1850 through the early 1900s, Cape May came into its own as a summer resort. In fact, those early tourists didn’t “vacation” in Cape May, says Robert Heinly. “They ‘resorted’.”

“Resorting” then was the equivalent of “vacationing” today. Later it evolved to become the noun, “resort,” which we use commonly today.

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Not Half the fun…

Getting to Cape May was itself an adventure. Until the middle of the Civil War, in 1863, when railroads connected Cape May to Philadelphia, many shore-bound travelers made the arduous overland trek to reach Cape May on horseback or carriage. The 100+ mile trip took two to three days, with overnight stops at inns and taverns along the way.

Late in the 1870s, another popular means of getting to Cape May was by steamship, the most luxurious of the time being “the Republic.” A large side-wheeler, she would leave from Race Street in Philadelphia and sail down the Delaware River and across the Delaware Bay. Passenger boat traffic landed at Sunset Beach, with passengers reaching Cape May by coach via what is now Sunset Boulevard, then a clamshell-covered road.

Railroads became faster and more accessible than steamboats.

Again Robert Heinly: “With the arrival of railroads, you had the arrival of day trippers. Back in those days, they would call them ‘excursionists.’ Today we call them ‘shoobies.’ The quicker transportation allowed less wealthy people to take day trips; wealthier people were here for the whole summer.”

The length of stay in Cape May was different than by today’s standards. Modern tourists come to Cape May mostly on summer holidays and weekends; some rent rooms, apartments or private houses for a week or two or maybe a month. The Victorians, especially the well-to-do, spent the entire summer (June through late August) in Cape May, enjoying a large stretch of time in their “summer cottages.”

In the pre-Civil War years, some families brought their servants with them or they hired local servants to assist them. For those Victorians renting houses, the landlords sometimes provided servants with the house. With over two months to kill, one wonders what these early tourists did with their time. Much of the what Victorians did then isn’t very different from what modern tourists do at the shore; they just had more time… and fewer conveniences.
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Bathing on the strand

Stockton_Beach_1907The primary reasons Victorians resorted in Cape May were “bathing upon the strand” (a euphemism for swimming in the ocean) and “promenading” (taking walks through town). Strolling the streets of Cape May, gentlemen in their straw hats and ladies with their parasols, couples could have a relaxing chat with a touch of intimacy in public. “They were really into promenading because it was one of the few socially acceptable ways that couples could actually touch each other in public,” says. Robert Heinly:

As Mr. Heinly puts it. “In the beginning of the Victorian era, bathing upon the strand was regulated according to gender. White flags flying on the sand designated timeStockton Beach 1907 from Cape May in Vintage Postcards by Don and Pat Pocher for ladies to use the beach, and red flags flying meant the beach was ready for the men to use. The flags would change every few hours during the day. The only time that a man was allowed on the strand when those white flags were flying would be if a Victorian lady became distressed and required male assistance. As the era progressed, more and more Victorian ladies almost on a regularly scheduled basis were becoming in need of male assistance by design. By the middle of the Victorian period, in the 1870s, men and women bathed together.”

The choice of bathing attire was very different in the Victorian era. “When they bathed, they were very much concerned with modesty, especially the women. The men on the other hand, were known to go naked, but then bathing suits came into style, especially when the two sexes were together on the beach.”

Victorians changed into their swimming attire in bath houses and tents that sprang up along the Cape May strand. According to Heinly, “You’d never be seen in town in your bathing attire. That was totally classless and vulgar, so they would always change in and out of their bathing attire on the strand.”

Bathing suits differed drastically from today’s standards; no bikinis for women or brief-shorts for men. The Victorian virtue of modesty played a role in how one was attired at the beach. For the men, bathing attire consisted on a tank top and trunks resembling biking shorts. Women wore full outfits, covering even their ankles and forearms.

Prudishness and Victorian demure didn’t end at what women wore on the strand; it also influenced how they entered the water.

Again Robert Heinly: “Some Victorian ladies were so modest that they had things called bathing wagons. Picture an old covered wagon going west, and you would back that up with the women in it into the water and the bottom would open and they’d bob around inside and no one would see them bathing. If they were adventurous they’d wade around and hold onto the outside of the wagon.”
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That whiter shade of pale

oldpicnic2One thing popular with today’s tourist was definitely not popular with the Victorians; sunbathing. Pale skin was the desirable look.

“One of the things [Victorians] didn’t do was tanning on the beach. They viewed a suntan, especially in ladies, as a sign of the working class that had to be laboring in the sun all day. They went the opposite way and cultivated a very pale skin color,” Heinly said.

The porch became the focal point for life in Victorian Cape May’s many homes. Large, wrap-around porches offered shade from the elements but exposed visitors to the salty air. Many Victorians sought respite in the cool refreshing atmosphere the porches conveyed, often spending hours talking and sharing gossip.

“The porch in the summer was the social center. They’d talk to people passing by or have readings. These were very status-climbing social people, and this was also a great way to check up on each other.”

The town’s major hotels would often sponsor weekend balls and less-formal dances called “hops.” These major social events were popular and widely attended. Some hotel owners hired local bands of musicians brought from Philadelphia or invited groups in the entertainment circuit to play.

Turn-of-the-century guests appreciated music. Concerts were frequently played on the lawn of the Congress Hall Hotel. In 1882, “the March King” himself, John Philip Sousa, then 26 years old, gave a concert at Congress Hall. Sousa played a new composition, “Congress Hall March,” written especially for H.J. and G.R. Crump, the owners of the Congress Hall Hotel.
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Being a good sport

“New things were happening in the Victorian era. There was a wonderful new invention called the lawnmower which allowed relatively smooth, flat lawns as opposed to when the goats would come and eat the grass. With the lawnmower came the advent of tennis, croquet and golf. Popular recreation in and around Victorian-era Cape May included lawn sports (badminton, croquet and tennis) and a new sport called baseball. Games were played on the Congress Hall Hotel lawn and at a ball park on Columbia Avenue.

tennis2Robert Heinly: “There was a regular summer league. Cape May was a power in that league. Interestingly enough, the restaurant owners would get together and recruit the best baseball players from Princeton, Penn and Rutgers and get them summer jobs here so they would play for the Cape May team. Cape May dominated the summer shore league.”

As it is today, bicycling was also popular with Victorians, with bicycle ovals and tracks in West Cape May north of Sunset beach.

When they weren’t peddling their cycles or promenading, some Victorian tourists enjoyed horseracing. Around the 1870s a racetrack in Town Bank provided amusement and sport, but the track folded at the close of the 19th century. Town Bank still shows evidence of the racetrack with two streets; Clubhouse Road and Race Track Drive.

ridingBut local love for racing didn’t disappear. Long before NASCAR, automobile racing became popular on Cape May’s beaches. In 1905 a race was held on Cape May’s beach between auto pioneer Henry Ford and Louis Chevrolet. The winner was unofficially Chevrolet.

Yachting was also a popular pastime in the late 1800s But “yacht” for Victorians meant any boat, not just luxury vessels. Fishing wasn’t popular as a sport in early Cape May by the wealthier guests. According to Heinly “They liked fishing, but it wasn’t as major as today because it was kind of dirty. They did more boating than fishing in the Victorian period. Later on, fishing becomes more popular than boating, which it is today.”

So except for soaking up the sunshine, it seems no matter what you do in Cape May this summer, the Victorians have likely “been there and done that” – and maybe even more.


Award Winning Winery

Visitors to Cape May might be surprised tolearn that they can experience and savor some billhayesfine,locally produced and award-winning wines.

The Cape May Winery and Vineyard, owned by Bill and Joan Hayes located less than a mile north of the Cape May Canal, has been producing three reds and two whites for some time now.

The reds include cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and Merlot; the whites, Chardonnay and Riesling. New this year will be a traminette, which is a variation of a German white wine.

At present, there are only three sources for these wines. All are restaurants located in Cape May: Oyster Bay Steak and Seafood Restaurant, the Peter Shields Inn and Godmother’s Italian Restaurant.

winery2The winery’s 1998 cabernet franc won a gold medal as the best vinifera in the state during this year’s Commercial Wine Competition. In all, the winery has earned 21 medals since it opened in 1995.

The winery and its first 5-acre vineyard sit on a 7.5-acre plot of land on the north side of Townbank Road just east of Seashore Road. Bill Hayes is preparing and cultivating a second 6.5-acre plot on Shunpike.

During its opening year with a little over two acres producing grapes, the winery’s production was only 225 gallons; 75 gallons of red and 150 gallons of white. The two wines sold that year were a Vintage 1994 Premiere Red and a Vintage 1994 Chardonnay.

Today, five acres are producing grapes. With four acres at least three years old, wine production is expected to reach more than 3,000 gallons this fall.

Barring natural disaster, Hayes expects about 1,000 gallons of cabernet sauvignon, 400 gallons each of cabernet franc and Merlot, 1,000 gallons of Chardonnay, 200 of Riesling and perhaps 50 gallons of traminette.

Production last year came to about 2,300 gallons and the three restaurant outlets handled 90winery1 percent of the wine. The remaining 10 percent was sold at the winery.

Under the rather complicated state laws governing farm vineyards, the winery is allowed to establish five outlets for its wines. But Hayes cannot expand until his production gets higher.

“I have just enough to supply the three restaurants,” he said.

The Shunpike land will be ready for two acres of grapes next spring but those vines won’t produce wine for a couple of years. Hayes expects to have 10 acres of productive vines by 2004-2005.

Bill and Joan recently expanded their home and its basement winery. They’ve added a wine tasting room, which they plan to open to the public by Memorial Day, 2001.

Proper soil, appropriate weather conditions, and a lot of work and knowledge are required to produce fine wines.

With water on three sides, the Cape May peninsula has an ideal microclimate for the vines. It rarely gets super cold and there are established breezes. When planted, the vines are aligned so as to take full advantage of the prevailing winds.

wineryThere are about 800 plants to the acre. Row spacing is nine feet and vines are planted six feet apart within the rows. This works out to 54 square feet of land per vine.A drip irrigation system provides water to each vine. This provides both quality grapes and a better yield.

Vineyards have several enemies including mildew and birds. An entire crop can be wiped out within a matter of hours should large flocks of birds be allowed to get at the grapes.

Proper canopy management and vine alignment to assure adequate aeration helps prevent mildew, and netting is placed over the vines before the grapes reach maturity as a defense against birds.The wine making process starts as soon as the grapes are harvested.

First, the grapes are moved through a crusher which also removes the stems and then the primary fermentation process is started.

For white wines, the skins are removed immediately and the juice placed into stainless steel tanks for two days allowing the sediment to settle. For Chablis-type wines, the juice is transferred into a stainless steel tank for a couple of months. For Chardonnay-style wines, the juice is places in wooden barrels.

With red wine, however, the juice and skins are placed in a vat and inoculated with yeast. Thewinery3 skins add color to the wine, and the tannin and flavor are  imparted into the juice.

Twice daily during this phase, a ‘punch down’ takes place. This is a traditional European process where the skins are pushed into the liquid so they maintain contact with the juice and not dry out.

During this two-week period, plus or minus a few days depending on the wine, the sugars are reduced to alcohol and the juice becomes wine.

When this phase ends, the skins and seeds are removed for the reds and the wine is placed into steel storage vats for two months to settle out the sediment. The wine is then transferred into oak barrels for whatever aging period is decided upon. Blending, if desired, can also take place at this time.


When trains and boats collide…

In April, National Geographic Traveler Magazine published a story and provided readers with an Internet open forum regarding Cape May’s traffic problems. Interestingly, many pointed to the Cape May Seashore Line Railroad as a definitive answer to parking difficulties and traffic congestion. But some are not pleased with this “solution.” Author Brad Murphy presents the other side of the coin.
To many, the Cape May Seashore Lines Railroad is a pleasure to behold and to ride. A nostalgic mode of transportation that adds to the historic lure of Cape May, and according to some, one which could help alleviate the city’s traffic and parking problems.

But there is a group that is generally unhappy about the railroad’s return to Cape Island. And it’s a large group, one which encompasses Cape May’s second largest industry.

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Fishermen.

Many pleasure boaters and those who earn their living on the sea and in the bay dislike the swing bridge across the Cape May Canal which closes to allow the train to cross, delaying boat traffic.

After an 18-year hiatus, trains returned to Cape May last year. They operate on weekends during the late spring and early fall and daily during the summer, this year starting June 12. There are four round-trips scheduled daily between Cape May Court House and Cape May City.
Each trip requires the closing of the bridge twice, once on the southbound leg then again 40 minutes later when it heads back north. Usually, the canal is closed for five to ten minutes each time. When closed the boats must wait and depending on the season and the day’s weather, vessels can accumulate rather quickly on each side. Further delays are incurred when the bridge reopens and the boats try to navigate through the small channel.

Party fishing boat captains say that safety is the major problem. “From day one it has been a safety issue for the boating public in the canal,” said Fred Ascoli, captain of the fishing boat Miss Chris. “There is two-way traffic and only a single lane at the bridge. Boats have been hitting the bridge.”
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“There is another problem, the bridge does not work properly, it gets stuck,” he continued. “Last year there were boats that sat there for over an hour.”

He said that on one occasion he had to go out and around, and instead of arriving back at his dock at 5 in the evening as scheduled, he didn’t get back into port until 7 p.m.

Some of last year’s problems were due to brownout-related power shortages to the bridge on hot days, says Seashore Lines president Tony Macrie. But his company has since installed an automatic generator that kicks in when the power drops below a certain level.

Traffic congestion is another major concern.

“With the tide and a lot of boats there is going to be an incident,” said Bob Schumann of the Sea Star fishing fleet. “We’ve had our problems with it but lately it’s not been too bad.”

Paul Thompson, skipper of the party boat Porgy III said he’s living with the situation. “I can work around the problem,” he said. “I am aware of the schedule of openings and closings.” In addition to the advertised scheduled train crossings, the bridge tender announces it over a radio navigation channel and sounds a warning signal and swings the bridge closed.

When open, the bridge sits in the center of the canal and is aligned parallel to the boat traffic and water flow. While there are channels on each side of the bridge, only the northern passage is open to boating (see photos).

“There is no two-way traffic,” Thompson said. “So when the bridge opens there is a potential for problems.” Captains Schumann and Ascoli agreed. “We want to get the south side of the bridge opened,” Ascoli said. “We went to the Coast Guard and they are looking into it.” But there is much more to it than simply opening the channel.
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Currently, electric power cables are suspended relatively low over the southern channel. Additionally, there are no fenders to protect the bridge on that side, nor does anyone know for sure whether the channel has enough depth to support boat traffic.

The United States Coast Guard is looking at the situation, according to Waverly Gregory, a civilian Bridge Management Specialist with the Coast Guard.

“We are still trying to get it investigated,” he said. “We were asked by the marine community to open the south channel for bi-directional use. But the south channel has never been an authorized or a federally-maintained channel.”

Many things need to be done. Funding must be had, commitments need to be made and the environment must be considered.

“We have to find out who will maintain the fender system,” Gregory said. “Environmental issues must be addressed with New Jersey Fish and Wildlife Department, National Marine Fisheries, the Corps of Engineers and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). There are a lot of agencies to make application to. But we took this on for the mariners.”

He at first hoped that New Jersey Transit, owners of the bridge and track, would voluntarily take on the task, but this is not the case now. New Jersey Transit intends to stay with the historic status quo of the system, according to spokesman Mike Klusas. “It is only closed for 80 minutes out of 1440 minutes in a 24-hour day,” he said. “We and our predecessors ran the service until October 31, 1981. The bridge was then left open until we renovated it.”

“Basically all we are doing is following the historic patterns,” he continued. “Basically it is only open for a brief time in an overall day. We have no plans to make changes or to make Tony stop running his trains.”

Macrie is neutral.

“Whether there is one channel or two it really doesn’t affect our operations,” he said. “New Jersey Transit and the Coast Guard are responsible for any and all decisions regarding the issue.”

Gregory said that “Macrie goes above and beyond” what other rail lines do regarding their bridge crossings.

“The Cape May Seashore Lines Railroad has issued approximate times when the trains cross that bridge,” he said. “Normally boaters don’t know when a bridge is going to close.”


One Answer to Cape May’s Parking Woes?

cmsllogoWDuring last month’s National Geographic Traveler Magazine on-line forum, many respondents proposed rail service as one possible solution to Cape May’s parking and congestion problems. CapeMay.com takes a look at the Seashore Lines — its history, current presence and potential future.

Before the dawn of the automobile age, railroad tracks ran through mainland Cape May County.

Steam locomotives chugged past pine forests, salt swamps and seaside villages, bringing restless Philadelphia passengers to Cape May. Urban-weary city slickers caught their first glimpses of summer cottages, whaling vessels and white, sandy beaches because of a burgeoning 19th century railroad industry that birthed several barrier island towns and communities on Cape May County’s coast.

In 1863, the Cape May and Millville Railroad became the inaugural rail line to link Camden, Millville, Woodbine, Cape May Court House and Cape May. The South Jersey Railroad followed in 1894, connecting Camden, Tuckahoe, Woodbine, Dennisville and Cape May Court House.

cmslrdcBy the turn of the 20th century, the Atlantic City Railroad and the West Jersey and Seashore railroad competed for passengers, racing to Cape May on tracks set miles from each other. For many a summer wayfarer, buying a ticket to Cape May was the only way to travel. Train stations today mostly non-existent or shells of their former selves were once cluttered with passengers switching trains, boarding and disembarking. Stations like Tuckahoe, Cape May Court House and Cape May were the most used.

In 1933, the Atlantic City and West Jersey and Seashore merged and became the Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines.

The age of train travel competed steadily with the automobile. During the 1920s, when automobiles became popular and affordable, railroads saw a deterioration in passenger volume. And this progress was the death knell for passenger train service to Cape May.

By 1981 all service to Cape ended. The rails carried freight to Tuckahoe until 1983. Then, for almost two decades, train tracks sat vacant and unused while the shore town tourist industry flourished just miles from the very tracks which created them in the first place.

But now the sound of train whistles once again echo off Cape Island, as refurbished trains again bring tourists to Cape May. This time, the trains are part of a local short line railroad, Cape May Seashore Lines.
Founded in 1984, Cape May Seashore Lines, owned by New Jersey Transit, is licensed to operate passenger rail service between Tuckahoe and Cape May, a 27-mile distance.

Currently, the railroad provides service from the 4-H Fairground north of Cape May Court House to Cape May, a distance of 13 miles, after the restoration of the Cape May Canal Bridge reopened passenger rail service to Cape May on June 12, 1999.

Cape May Seashore Lines CEO and president, Tony Macrie, began his railroad career as a track laborer for a Pennsylvania railroad.

Macrie rose through the railroad hierarchy, working as a track supervisor and a qualified engineer. As president of Cape May Seashore Lines, he reintroduced passenger train service to Cape May County, a marriage of conveyance and tourism.

SeashoreCarBesides the 4-H Fairgrounds and Cape May, the rail line has train stops in Cape May Court House, the county seat and commercial hub, and Cold Spring Village, a historical recreation of a 19th century hamlet.

“It’s like we’re re-inventing the wheel,” Macrie said of the current train service.

Operating in the Cape May Seashore Lines are eight Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines Budd cars, circa 1950; two P-70s, circa 1915 and 1917; and a West Jersey and Seashore GP9 #700, circa 1955.

For just $8 for adults and $5 for children, passengers can board the train at the 4-H Fairgrounds and travel to Cape May round-trip. One way tickets cost $5.

Macrie hopes the train service depended upon by many past generations will remedy a modern problem: increased traffic in Cape May.

“It’s been very good for us. We carried a large number of people last year. We believe that’s a good solution for alleviating traffic and congestion problems down there,” Macrie said. “We hope the city would be more cooperative for using train. Its economical and an efficient way of moving people in and out of the city.”

Cape May’s traffic woes are the stuff of legend. A town with a 19th century street plan only had to deal with horses, buggies and pedestrians a century ago. Now, the influx of 21st century tourism has strained the city’s limit on parking spots and caused a burden on city fathers to find a solution.

Macrie believes Cape May’s rail line will cushion the city’s traffic malaise.
“We need to work closer with the city of Cape May. We need more cooperation. Parking garages aren’t the answer. You have to intercept people before they get into town,” Macrie said.

Wayne Piersanti, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Cape May, attests to the railroad’s impact on the tourist industry. “Public transportation is very difficult to look at because we recognize we have to wean our customers from the use of their automobiles when they come to town,” Piersanti said. “With the train bringing people there are mixed reviews because we have a viable bus business bringing people in,” Piersanti said.

No parking for large busses exists in tourist-rich destinations such as the quaint Washington Street Mall or the many beach entranceways. Busses drop sightseers off at the historic train station, currently undergoing restoration to become the city’s transportation center. Piersanti said for many Cape May visitors not inclined to gas up and drive to Cape May, the preferred conveyance is the bus.

However, he added an “inter-modal” transportation system, one where the train and busses work in harmony, is what the city needs to reduce in-town traffic. By utilizing a jitney service already in place, train and bus passengers can freely move about the city, not worrying about traffic jams or finding all-too-elusive parking spaces.

SeashoreMap“The problem with public transportation is if it becomes too cost effective, people will continue to use their automobiles. Automobiles are cheaper. To take the train from here to Court House is expensive. People will always rely on cars,” Piersanti said.

Macrie disagrees that the train is relegated to an antique curiosity bereft of benefits for travelers. An average rail car can hold as many passengers as 30 automobiles.

That’s 30 cars that won’t be causing traffic headaches in Cape May, Macrie reasoned. According to Macrie, passenger numbers for Cape May Seashore Lines increased 18-percent last year. “Besides being a tourist attraction, it’s actually a mini-transportation system. Besides being recreation, it’s honest-to-goodness transportation,” Macrie said.

The ghosts of a southern shore railroad may be resurrected with an ambitious new project planned to restore rail service farther north to Tuckahoe and maybe even Atlantic City. Exactly $3.6 million in funding is in the works by the New Jersey Department of Transportation (DOT) for repairing a trestle in Woodbine and track rehabilitation to Tuckahoe. If the state green lights the funding, passengers can park their cars in Tuckahoe and ride the 24 miles of track to Cape May.

“We get a lot of riders from Ocean City, Atlantic City and people driving down from Cherry Hill. You intercept them before they can drive the congested Garden State Parkway. We see the train opening more markets for us,” Macrie said.

Merry May, past president of the Greater Tuckahoe Merchant’s Association, an entity consisting of 40 members with businesses in Tuckahoe, Corbin City and Estelle Manor, believes Cape May Seashore Lines’ extension into Tuckahoe Junction could help with Cape May’s tourist traffic.

Map courtesy of Yahoo.com     Tuckahoe, a section of Upper Township in northwest Cape May County, lies along the Tuckahoe River, across from Corbin City in Atlantic County. In its salad days, Tuckahoe had a vibrant boating industry, and its train station brought scores of visitors to the shore. Now Tuckahoe hopes to cash in on the Cape May Seashore Lines’ plans to extend the track. The Tuckahoe train station is being renovated and local businesses such as craft stores and artisans shops are opening, hoping visitors will make Tuckahoe a stop in vacation itineraries.

“We’ve been behind the project to move it forward so South Jersey isn’t left behind when it comes to transportation,” May said. “It would bring people into town to park their cars near the station and commute to Cape May. It’s important in the summer so people won’t park in Cape May.”

May, owner of Schoolhouse Enterprises, a quilting shop, said parking in Tuckahoe is currently limited, but hopes the township will find a way to add more parking spaces so Cape May-bound motorists can park in Tuckahoe and ride the train to Cape May.

“Every time we have an event we hear people say, ‘When’s the train coming?'” May said. “We’ve been waiting for it for years. We hope legislators look our way and filter out funds for the project.”

A long-range goal Macrie sees as “inevitable,” one destined to change transportation for the South Jersey shore region is the tying in of Cape Seashore Lines with the Atlantic City line. If the New Jersey DOT and New Jersey Transit permit the lines to connect, visitors from Philadelphia and Atlantic City can ride the rails directly to Cape May.

But before that can happen, Cape May Seashore Lines must reach Tuckahoe.

Piersanti believes train service to Cape May will increase passengers only if tourists resist the urge to use their automobiles, a tough sell for many who view the car as a symbol of independence and mobility. “If the train becomes a more viable source of transportation, then people may start taking the train into town,” Piersanti said.

Macrie said train service is a sensible alternative to driving to the shore, battling for parking spaces, and constantly feeding parking meters. “Every shore community from Atlantic City to Cape May had rail service. That’s how those communities were built,” Macrie said. “People now would like another alternative to the automobile.”