A Family Paradise
CAPE May is a little like that annoying kid in high school who received all the awards — dean’s list, MVP, perfect attendance, you name it. Our National Historic Landmark city and its assets have been honored time and again. Remember our placement on Budget Travel’s “10 Coolest Small Towns in America” list in 2012? Or how about TripAdvisor naming Sunset Beach the 24th best sandy stretch in the nation? The Albert Stevens Inn on Myrtle Avenue? It’s 18th in the world’s B&b rankings, also according to TripAdvisor. And the Mission Inn on New Jersey Avenue? Number 25 in the country.
You might think another award would be ho-hum at this point, but the most recent honor bestowed upon our charmed city — a number five designation among the Top 10 Best Beach Towns in the country, according to a recent Parents magazine article — has us buzzing.
Never mind that Parents has a readership over two million strong and a Facebook page with nearly one million likes — it’s the methodology behind their Top 10 piece that caught our attention.
“I use the TripAdvisor service, myself,” article author and Parents Contributing Editor Karen Cicero told us. “And of course we value people’s anecdotal experiences, but our surveys are not typically comprised of only that.”
Instead, Karen, who says the piece had a year-long gestation period, started out by removing all towns with poor water quality from the running, using information provided by the National Resources Defense Council. “I was surprised,” she said. “We began with hundreds, and eliminated about 50 percent right there.”
After that, Karen knocked out all beach spots with no lifeguarding services (at least another third). “Parents are watching their own kids on the beach,” Karen said, “but rip currents can happen any time, and having a trained professional is important.”
At this point, Cape May was still in the running, so Karen called the city to see about one not-so-minor detail — whether or not we suffered great devastation, like so many of our unfortunate neighbors to the north, at the hands of Hurricane Sandy.
“It made me very happy to hear that Cape May had been spared,” said Karen, who is herself a Cape May vacation vet. “I have a 10-year-old daughter, Katie, who we brought to Cape May about two years ago,” she told us. “I live in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and my family has vacationed often in Wildwood, but I always wanted to try Cape May, and I was charmed by it, from beginning to end. We loved the old-fashioned carnival nights offered by Congress Hall, and the welcoming vibe of the city. My daughter still asks to go back.” (Check out a blog post on Karen’s Cape May experience by visiting parents.com/blogs/goodyblog/2013/05/33709/.)
Karen was especially impressed with the Nature Center on Delaware Avenue. “It was Katie’s favorite memory,” she told us. “She participated in a program that allows kids to cast their net into the ocean, and discover the little critters that come into it. The experience stuck with her. And I remember thinking how affordable it was.”
It is inland activities like this that were also taken into account when researching the Parents article. “We have done similar types of stories in the past, where we rank each resort or beach by itself,” Karen said. “This is the first time we looked at entire towns, and it’s important because families want to experience not just a resort or beach, but all a place has to offer.”
Other factors included price, overall vibe (“Are you going to feel comfortable there with your child,” Karen said, “or is it going to be full of college kids on spring break?”), and anecdotal experience. “We wanted the perspectives of people who actually live and vacation there,” she told us. “We wanted an insider’s view, rather than that of a travel and tourism board member. It is real parents who helped us decide what to feature.”
And it’s real parents we spoke with this week, when we asked for advice on how to make a vacation with your kids just a wee bit easier. Because even on the fifth most family-friendly beach in the country, the under-four-foot set can add a fair amount of stress to a relaxing stint on the sand. In fact, one of our readers sent us a message that read: “There are no hints. Ike put 200,000 troops on the beach at Normandy with less hassle than putting three kids on the beach in Jersey.”
But for those of you who are feeling less, ahem, melodramatic, we’ve compiled a list of our favorite reader-submitted tips, beginning with one from Karen herself.
Karen Cicero: “I buy regular sunscreen, but for touch-ups, I rely on the Supergood brand of sunblock wipes, which can be purchased online. That, and figure out where the restrooms are!”
Ben Miller: “Pack snacks like granola bars and fruit that will give the kids nutrients and energy, but not upset their stomachs if they run around afterwards. Plus, if you opt for a hot dog from one of the vendors for lunch, your kids are still getting something healthy to go along with it, instead of chips.”
Catherine Pagliuca: Draw a big circle in the soft sand and tell your kids to play ‘the running around game’ inside it. This worked with mine until they were six! They get tired out, and you get to sit still while they play. Also, limit the souvenirs, but market it right, by saying something like, ‘Today, everyone gets to bring home THREE seashells!’ Otherwise, you end up with a big bucket of smelly dead stuff in the trunk. And make peace with the sand; vacuum the car in the fall.”
Danielle Coraddinno: Rent a box on the beach for all of your gear. (Reporter’s note: Stegers Beach Service offers box rentals — they hold up to five chairs! — for individual days, or an entire season. Reserve online at stegerbeachservice.com).
Melanie Thiel: When kids get cranky in the afternoon, take them back to air conditioning and a bed/ or crib and let them nap! You can still enjoy yourself with an adult beverage on the porch and a copy of Exit Zero until they wake up.
So there you have it, parents. And remember, only one month until school lets out…
Oh No, Mosquito!
THEY are widely considered among the most dangerous creatures on the planet. We’re not talking about saber-tooth tigers or great white sharks or any other creature with a two-ton bite capable of gnashing human bone. We’re talking about a bug. A bug that can kill you or, at least, kill your plans for an evening barbeque.
It’s true — mosquitoes have been putting a damper on this otherwise idyllic place for the last 170 million years, so we called the affable Superintendent of the Cape May County Department of Mosquito Control, Peter Bosak, PhD, to find out what, exactly, he’s doing to salvage our summer.
The answer? Quite a bit… and not what you might think.
“When I tell them what I do, children of the 50s, 60s, even part of the 70s picture a truck going down the street with a giant plume of white smoke coming from the back,” Peter told us. “That’s the image that’s ingrained in the baby boomer psyche. But mosquito control has evolved.”
Forget pesticides; that’s the last resort. Instead, the commission relies on a multi-faceted approach, the first step of which is water control. “There are 45 different species of mosquitoes in this county,” Peter said. “And there is only one thing that applies to every one of them — they all start out in the water.”
So, with a lot of equipment and a great deal of liaising with wildlife conservation agencies, Pete oversees the elimination of standing water, often through the use of ditches which redirect it towards a larger body and, at the same time, allow mosquito larvae-eating fish greater access to their prey. Then comes the use of bacterial larvacides and, on the bottom of the hierarchy, chemical control.
But no matter how successful these initiatives are, the fact remains that our county is “essentially one big marsh,” and mosquitoes are a fact of life. As for how big a fact? Your guess is as good as ours.
“It’s a fair question,” Pete said, “But predicting how heavy the mosquitoes will be in a given season would be like predicting the weather for the month of July. There are many variables. The insects are an immediate function of what goes on in the environment, so their numbers are determined less by long-term climate changes.”
However, there is one annoying set — the salt marsh mosquitoes — that you can bank on more at certain times than others. “They revolve around the lunar tide cycle, which we generally have twice a month,” Peter said. “These are slightly stronger and higher, and they flood areas that wouldn’t flood normally. So, if you’re planning a big event and you have the ability to change its date, it is possible to hedge your bets by not holding it a week to two weeks after the lunar cycle.”
And if that’s not an option, Peter doesn’t see anything wrong with DEET, a common ingredient in most over-the-counter insect repellents that’s been around for 40 years. “Anti-pesticide people will tell you the opposite, but I’m a big believer in looking at the science, and nobody’s grown two heads from using DEET,” Pete said. “But Skin So Soft is another story. It’s not a proven repellent. Many people just put so much on, they become an oily mess, and the bugs stick to them.”
Other myth-busters? Bats and barn swallows are not all that adept at catching the insects. Even dragonflies, which rely heavily on mosquitoes as a food source, make a negligible dent in the population. “And that would be the case even if dragonfly numbers were doubled,” Peter said.
Or, how about this: not ALL mosquitoes are blood-sucking spawn of the devil. In fact, some don’t bite humans at all. And within the groups that do, it’s only the females who get under your skin. (Insert misogynist jokes here). Taking your blood is not how they feed — they rely on nectar for that, same as the butterfly — but how many of them obtain protein necessary for egg production, which is accomplished by first inserting saliva into a host to prevent blood-clotting. Think about that the next time an itchy red bump appears while you’re mowing the lawn.
And no, you’re not imagining it, some of us are way more vulnerable to attacks than others. “Just like we all have different personalities,” Peter said, “we all exude different concentrations of chemicals which emanate from our pores, and mosquitoes are more attracted to some combinations than others.”
So, if you’re one of those unlucky folks whose chemical combo is appealing, how worried should you be? After all, these are the creatures that transmit malaria (essentially eradicated from the US now, but still the greatest killer on the planet), yellow and dengue fever, even a parasitic disease called filariasis which leads to elephantiasis and blindness. Not to mention West Nile virus, which a Cape May County resident contracted just last year, and eastern equine encephalitis, which is even more dangerous, according to Peter.
“I wouldn’t let it determine your outdoor activities,” Peter said. “Unless there comes a press release from our department saying you should.”
Turns out, the Cape May County Mosquito Commission is the only in the state which tests their own mosquitoes in-house, grinding them up in a state-of-the-art lab until they’re nothing but a buggy paste which researchers can analyze. All together now: Ewwww.
So rest easy, Cape Mayans. You’ve got a capable team making sure our little island is safe from these bastard bugs. And try not to let them drive you too crazy. “Like every living thing,” Peter said, “they are part of the food web.”
The Great Race(s)
How about running on an airport runway, jumping off the Cape May-Lewes Ferry and swimming to shore or running in a two or five mile competition in a borough that looks like a picture postcard? You can’t do all three things in one race — they are separate events — but all are coming up in a few weeks.
When you were a kid, you probably made motor sounds and ran down the sidewalk with your arms extended pretending to be an airplane. On June 8, you can do that on a runway of the county airport in Naval Air Station Wildwood museum’s Runway 5k and 1-Mile Fun Walk.
The event begins at the airport at 9am, and proceeds benefit restoration of Hangar #1 which is listed on the both the national and state registers of historic places. The run will be held rain or shine.
“When was the last time you could run on a runway?” asked Dr. Joseph Salvatore, Museum Director. The airport will shut down from 8-11am so runners, walkers and airplanes are not competing for runway space.
Participants 18 and older who register before June 1 will be entered into a drawing for a free flight on the B-17 Yankee Lady, a World War II bomber which will visit the museum June 10- 12.
Early registration is encouraged (and available online at usnasw.org.) Day-of registration will begin at 7am at the aviation museum. The fee is $25.
Admission to the museum will be free until noon on race day.
What promises to be an intense event June 2 starts with participants jumping off the Cape May-Lewes Ferry and swimming to the beach in front of the ferry terminal in North Cape May as part of the inaugural Escape the Cape Triathlon. The race takes place entirely in Lower Township due to the assistance of Recreation Director Mitch Plenn.
Event founder Stephen Del Monte said the only other triathlon that involves jumping off a boat is San Francisco’s Escape from Alcatraz, that includes a 1.5-mile swim from a ferry adjacent to the former prison known as The Rock.
To escape the cape, participants will dive 10 feet off the car deck of the ferry more than one mile from shore, all this with the blessing of the Delaware River and Bay Authority.
“We’ll have tons of water safety personnel that will be in position to guide the swimmers along and make sure are able to handle anything that may arise,” said Del Monte.
The second leg of the triathlon is biking from the ferry terminal to Jonathan Hoffman Boulevard over the Seashore Road Bridge to New England Road and returning to North Cape May.
The third leg, a run, begins at the beach near the ferry terminal moving onto Beach Drive to Town Bank and Cape May Beach and returning to the terminal.
The triathlon promises to be a local economic stimulus with 1,000 participants registered for the event and hailing from as far away as Arizona and Colorado.
“This is going to have an economic impact of a minimum of $500,000 to the community,” said Del Monte, who staged his first triathlon in North Wildwood in 2004.
“When you race, you generally effect yourself, but when you produce, you have the chance to effect thousands of lives,” he said. “It’s a very positive atmosphere with the right people there; they are trying to achieve a goal.”
Online registration is available at escapethecape.com.
On June 15, the Cape May Point Volunteer Fire Department will hold a five-mile run to benefit the department. The event began in 1979 and is one of the oldest continually held footraces in South Jersey.
The race has a history of hundreds of runners and spectators participating. Billed as the largest annual event in Cape May Point, it boasts both a two-mile and five-mile run over a course described as “fast and flat.” It passes Lake Lily, Cape May Point State Park and the Cape May Lighthouse.
The two-mile run begins at 8:30am with the five mile run following at 9am. Participants can register at the fire house on Yale Avenue on the day of for $25, beginning at 7:30am. Early registration can be by mail (send $20 Cape May Point Five Mile Run, PO Box 84, Cape May Point, NJ 08212) or in person June 14 from 6:30 to 8:30pm. Online registration is available at cmp5m.org.