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The Lighthouse Challenge of New Jersey has a mission for New Jersey residents and tourists, should they choose to accept it: Visit – and climb if you can – as many lighthouses as possible in a two-day period Saturday to Sunday, Oct. 19-20.
The event, now in its 14th year, challenges participants to travel up, down and across the state, stopping at all of New Jersey’s maintained land-based lighthouses – 11 in total – plus two museums and two lifesaving stations.
Participants can begin at any lighthouse. Directions from one beacon to the next are provided on the event website.
The completed challenge is somewhere around 300 miles depending on the route taken, according to Steve Murray, chairman of the Friends of the Hereford Inlet Lighthouse, a nonprofit organization that maintains and operates the North Wildwood lighthouse.
Some people set out determined to complete the challenge, while others prefer to visit just a few lighthouses, he said.
“Most of them don’t complete it, but entire families have done it every year,” Murray said. “Last year somebody did it on a motorcycle. He did the whole thing on Saturday and then came back and did the whole thing again on Sunday.”
The challenge is also an opportunity to tour beacons that aren’t normally open to the public, such as the Sea Girt Lighthouse, according to Murray.
Collect souvenir stamps
Participants can purchase a souvenir “passport” for $1 at any venue and then collect a stamp for their book at each stop.
“Last year we had ink stamps and stamped the passports; this year we have color adhesive stamps with antique images of each lighthouse,” Murray said. “We try to make it a little different every year.”
Hereford light greeted about 1,800 visitors during last year’s challenge, “more than all other weekends of the year put together,” Murray said.
“We plan it all year long,” he said. “You get to show off your lighthouse and meet all these people who are caught up in the competitive spirit. It’s exciting. It’s like waiting for Christmas every year. Everybody is on a mission.”
Many of the venues are holding festivities to coincide with the challenge.
“We’ve always taken advantage of the fact so many people from all over the country and even foreign countries are visiting the lighthouse,” Murray said. “At Hereford we’re having a mini-festival. There will be guest authors and artists signing and selling their work, photographers, and we’ll be selling food.”
Everyone who completes the challenge is entered into a drawing for a basket of prizes worth $1,000, he said. Many venues will be holding individual raffles as well; Hereford Light is raffling a handmade quilt.
The challenge will take place 8 a.m.-6 p.m. rain or shine. In addition, night climbs will be offered at the Absecon, Cape May, Tinicum and Tuckerton lights.
The challenge was designed to raise awareness about the state’s historic beacons and to help raise funds for lighthouse preservation, education and restoration. It was started by the New Jersey Lighthouse Society and is now organized by the Lighthouse Managers Association of New Jersey.
The Cape May Lighthouse in Cape May Point is also included in the challenge. Built in 1859, it is 157 feet tall and has 199 steps and is operated by the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts and Humanities.
Climbing the tower has been a pastime for visitors and residents since at least 1882, when the Cape May Ocean Wave reported that "The gentleman superintendent in charge, Mr. Samuel Stillwell, takes pleasure in showing visitors who have the nerve and strength of limb to the top, the interior of the lantern, and explaining the interesting operations of the light,” according to the challenge website. “A very picturesque view of the sea, bay, and country may also be obtained from the giddy heights of the edifice," the newspaper stated.
Both Cape May and Hereford are active lighthouses, Murray said, but the light at Hereford is under repair and temporarily dark.
Other local stops on the challenge are the Tatham Life Saving Station in Stone Harbor, the U.S. Life Saving Station in Ocean City and the Cape May County Historical Museum in Cape May Court House.
New Jersey's tallest beacon is the Absecon Lighthouse at Pacific and Rhode Island avenues in Atlantic City.
One of the oldest lighthouses in the country, it has its original first-order Fresnel lens, first lit in 1857, according to the Lighthouse Challenge website. The beacon has 228 steps and a view from the top of the Atlantic City skyline.
The lighthouse recently underwent a multimillion dollar restoration that includes a replica of the lightkeeper's dwelling, an educational museum, a gift shop and a Fresnel lens exhibit in the original oil house.
Lighthouses are some of the oldest structures in the country, Murray said.
“In so many of the towns where the lighthouses are, the lighthouse was the first occupied building. Generally they came before the towns,” Murray explained, and residents settled around them. “Anglesea arose around the lighthouse.”
He paraphrased what he said was an oft-repeated quote among those who advocate for the preservation of these historic structures.
“In Europe they have all the ancient cathedrals and castles; this country has its lighthouses. They are our castles,” Murray said.
Participating lighthouses and museums
- Absecon Lighthouse, Atlantic City
- Barnegat Lighthouse, Barnegat Light
- Barnegat Light Historical Museum, Barnegat Light
- Cape May Lighthouse, Cape May Point
- Cape May County Historical Museum, Cape May Court House
- East Point Lighthouse, Heislerville
- Finn’s Point Lighthouse, Pennsville
- Hereford Inlet Lighthouse, North Wildwood
- Navesink Twin Lights, Highlands
- U.S. Life Saving Station, Ocean City
- Sandy Hook Lighthouse, Sandy Hook
- Sea Girt Lighthouse, Sea Girt
- Tatham Life Saving Station, Stone Harbor
- Tinicum Rear Range Lighthouse, Paulsboro
- Tucker’s Island Lighthouse, Tuckerton
Entrance fees are required at some locations, and donations are requested at others. Specifics on each venue can be found on their individual websites and at lighthousechallengenj.org , njlhs.org and visitnj.org .
For information call Hereford Inlet Light at 609-522-4520 or see herefordlighthouse.org .