The Beachcomber Fall Festival Guide

New Jersey Lighthouse Challenge Celebrates 20th Anniversary

By Rick Mellerup | Sep 27, 2019

Barnegat Light — The Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce’s Chowderfest has attracted many thousands of people to Long Beach Island every autumn since 1989.

Meanwhile, this will be the 37th year that thousands of folks – many with their dogs – will gather on the mainland in Tuckerton to attend the Ocean County Decoy & Waterfowling Show.

Needless to say, Chowderfest and the Decoy Show help pump scores of thousands of dollars into the local economy, supporting restaurants, bars, hotels, campgrounds and stores and extending the area’s tourist season.

Often overlooked, however, is another fall event that attracts hundreds – and maybe thousands – of people to not only Southern Ocean County but the entire state of New Jersey. We’re talking about the New Jersey Lighthouse Challenge, which will celebrate its 20th anniversary Oct. 19 and 20.

The goal of people participating in the Challenge is to visit 11 of the state’s lighthouses or light towers, plus additional attractions as well, over the two days.

Absecon Lighthouse in Atlantic City is the state’s tallest at 171 feet (you’ll have to deal with 228 steps to climb it) and the third-tallest masonry lighthouse in the country, behind only Cape Hatteras Light in North Carolina and the Ponce de Leon Inlet Light in Florida. It was first lit in 1857, featuring a first-order Fresnel lens.

The Barnegat (Light) Lighthouse, lovingly also known as Old Barney, was, like Absecon’s, first lit in 1857. Again, like Absecon’s, it was designed by George Meade, better known as the winning Union general at the Battle of Gettysburg. And like Absecon, Barnegat Lighthouse is tall, checking in at 163 feet and 217 steps.

Cape May Lighthouse is a relative baby compared to Absecon and Barnegat, not lit until 1859. As a younger child, it also isn’t quite as tall as the aforementioned pair, “only” measuring 157 feet and containing a “mere” 199 steps.

East Point Light, located in Heislerville, Cumberland County, is the second-oldest lighthouse in the Garden State, built in 1849. The two-story brick structure is 40 feet tall.

The Finns Point Range Light was built in 1877 and is a classic example of a skeletal cast iron prefabricated lighthouse. It is located in Pennsville Township, Salem County and used to guide ships into the Delaware River. It is 115 feet tall.

Navesink Twin Lights can be found in Highlands, Monmouth County. They were first lit in 1862. They’re only 73 feet high but because they were built on “highlands,” the pair of beacons are 246 feet above sea level.

Sandy Hook Lighthouse, today part of the Gateway National Recreation Center, was built in 1764. It is the not only the granddaddy of New Jersey lighthouses but also the oldest working lighthouse in the United States. While Sandy Hook is a relatively small lighthouse, measuring 103 feet, it was built for a very big job: aiding mariners entering New York Harbor.

Sea Girt Lighthouse, Monmouth County, was constructed in 1896 and measures 44 feet. It hosted the first radio beacon mounted in a shore installation in the U.S.

You can find the Tinicum Rear Range Lighthouse in Paulsboro, Gloucester County. It began operation on New Year’s Eve, 1880. The 85-foot iron structure helped guide ships toward Philadelphia.

The current Tucker’s Island Lighthouse fronts the Tuckerton Seaport and Baymen’s Museum on Route 9 in Tuckerton. It is a replica of the original Tucker’s Island Lighthouse, built in 1848 but which fell into the sea on Oct. 12, 1927 as the sandbar island it was on disintegrated. Tucker’s Island became a modern-day Atlantis, slipping under the water’s surface by 1952.

Other New Jersey Lighthouse Challenge must-sees include the (Mana)Squan, Tatham (located in Stone Harbor) and U.S. 30 (Ocean City) Life Saving Stations, and Barnegat Light Museum, located at 501 Central Avenue, Barnegat Light.

To get an idea of how many people the New Jersey Lighthouse Challenge attracts, consider the example of Barnegat Light Museum. “An average of 1,200 people a year visit the museum over the weekend of the Challenge,” said Karen Larson of the Miss Barnegat Light fishing charter boat and the Barnegat Light Museum. “Sometimes there are more, sometimes less, according to the weather and the economy. And that’s just who visit the museum; even more visit the lighthouse.”

The list of attractions is long and the lighthouses and life saving stations are many miles apart. Which means people who want to complete the New Jersey Lighthouse Challenge will probably take two days to do it; which means they may be visiting restaurants six times during the course of their travels, may want some liquid refreshment after Saturday’s journey, and probably will be staying at least on night in a hotel, motel or bed and breakfast. If local businesses can serve 1,200 people on a weekend late in October, well, that’s icing on the cake as the summer/fall tourist season is coming to its close. Sure, the Challenge doesn’t draw as many people as Chowderfest or the Decoy Show, but 1,200 – and probably many more – visiting potential customers isn’t a mere drop in the bucket, and surely helps the economy of LBI and the Southern Ocean County mainland.

So, here’s a toast to the New Jersey Lighthouse Challenge. Salute!

For more information, visit

— Rick Mellerup

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