The South Jersey Shore offers many beach trails, nature centers and museums. Therefore, there are many places in which to learn more about this coast. Visiting nature centers, wildlife refuge areas and museums is a great way to do so.
Nature Center of Cape May (1600 Delaware Ave, Cape May)
The Nature Center of Cape May is one of nine staffed nature centers throughout the state. The environmental education campus is located in Cape May and includes a three-story observation tower, indoor observation lounge, three classrooms, exhibit aquaria, a small gift shop, and multiple themed display gardens. The Cape May harbor and adjacent area provide natural classrooms that are used in the center’s programs. The Nature Center offers a full schedule of natural history programs for the general public throughout the year, including educational programs. Open mid-April until end of October.
Ocean City Bayside Center (520 Bay Avenue, Ocean City)
The Bayside Center is a an activities and education facility operated by the City of Ocean City. The program is located on the grounds of an historical home on the bay. Here, visitors can learn about the South Jersey shore environment through exhibits, displays, and information. The property is open to visitors in the summer months from the last Saturday in June until Labor Day from 10:00 am until 4:00 pm. During summer, the Bayside Center hosts eight weeks of summer camps geared towards teaching children about the shore’s ecosystem in a fun and interactive way. The themes of these camps include exploring the beach, wetlands, weather, pirates, chemistry, wildlife and sailing, among others. The Center, in partnership with the Ocean City Sailing Foundation, offers sailing lessons for juniors and adults in summer.
The Wetlands Institute (1075 Stone Harbor Boulevard, Stone Harbor)
The Wetlands Institute is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and protecting the wetlands and coastal ecosystems of the South Jersey shore. The Institute accomplishes its mission through research, education and conservation efforts. It also provides fun, hands-on and interactive experiences for visitors to learn about our coastal environment and its wildlife and a desire to become protectors of this important ecosystem. The summer schedule is full of weekly events and festivals. You can also work with the Institute on preservation efforts for turtles, horseshoe crabs and shore birds.
Wildlife Refuge Areas
Cape May National Wildlife Refuge (Various locations on Cape May Peninsula)
The Cape May National Wildlife Refuge is located within the Cape May peninsula. This location offers stunning views of sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean, and sunset over the water of the Delaware Bay. The Refuge currently protects over 11,000 acres of peninsula habitat in its 3 refuge units. These units represent unique, diverse habitats: forested hardwood swamp, river estuary and ocean barrier island. There are activities for the whole family year-round at Cape May National Wildlife Refuge. These includeincluding trails, fishing, environmental education, guided walks, wildlife viewing and more. Click here to see their list of activities.
Bird Sanctuaries / Bird Observatories
Cape May Bird Observatory Northwood Center (701 East Lake Drive, Cape May Point)
The Cape May Bird Observatory was founded in 1976 and is sponsored by the New Jersey Audubon Society. The New Jersey Audubon is a non-profit statewide membership organization that exists to foster environmental awareness and a conservation ethic among residents of New Jersey. The Cape May Bird Observatory Northwood Center is one of several centers sponsored by New Jersey Audubon. The Observatory is located on Cape May Point. It offers a full summer schedule of birding opportunities, including bird observatory walks, birding by boat and more. Other special events and activities include a School of Birding, Monarch Butterfly Monitoring Project and Migration Watches. For more information on their many birding activities, click here.
Stone Harbor Bird Sanctuary (Located between Second and Third Avenues, and 111th and 116th Streets, Stone Harbor)
The Stone Harbor Bird Sanctuary offers four walking trails open year-round to allow visitors to learn about and observe the various species of birds who life in and around this area. The three trails are the Heron Overlook Path, the Meadow Walk Path, the Holly Path and the Egret Epsy Path. The Heron Overlook and the Meadow Walk Paths are located off 3rd Avenue. These paths take visitors through saltwater wetlands and freshwater meadows. They inclde and a popular heron and egret feeding area. The Holly and Egret Epsy Paths are located off 2nd Avenue. These paths take visitors through sand dune and an ancient Maritime Forest to a freshwater pond. Visitors will also pass pine trees planted by boyscouts after the 1962 nor’easter that destroyed much of the coast. All paths open year round with the exception of Holly Path which is closed between March and September to encourage a growing population of Night Herons.
Avalon Dune and Beach Trail (Dune Drive between 44th and 48th Streets)
The Avalon Dune and Beach Trail provides the opportunity to walk through the remnants of a maritime forest. This is important because this type of forest once covered the South Jersey shore barrier islands. Development along the South Jersey shore unfortunately eradicated this natural resource. Fortunately, Avalon still has abundant dunes and forest lands. This means visitors can experience both freshwater and saltwater environments, hardy forest trees, shrubs, grasses, dunes and the beach. As described on their website: “The maritime forest’s trees flourish in the protection afforded them by the dunes providing a shield from the ocean’s energy. As the trail leads closer to the beach, trees become shorter, more stressed and change to trees that can adapt to the salty breezes and heavier winds. Progressively, the trees give way to shrubs that hide behind the protection of the dunes. Finally, the shrubs give way to the dune and marsh grasses that sway continually in the never-ending ocean breezes.”
Ocean City Discovery Seashell Museum (2721 Asbury Avenue, Ocean City)
The Discovery Seashell Museum has been an Ocean City landmark for over 40 years. This museum features thousands of species of shells from all over the world, all identified and tagged. They also have many seashells and items made from seashells for sale. In addition to displaying and selling seashells, they have a rock and mineral collection. Additionally, the museum showcases a fossil collection with specimens dating back millions of years. Visitors are invited to take a picture inside a giant shark jaw as a keepsake. Items for sale offered by the Seashell Museum include seashell knick-knacks, jewelry, Christmas ornaments, toys, hermit crabs and more.
There are so many ways to connect with nature at the shore. Hopefully you have some time to visit the nature centers, walk the beach trails or check out a museum while you’re here. Learn more about the opportunities to take guided beach walks and guided beachcombing events or the activities that teach you about the shore’s wildlife and animals that live on the beach.