In case you missed Thursday's big announcement by Governor Phil Murphy and NJ DEP Commissioner Shawn LaTourette, all 50+ New Jersey state parks, forests, and recreation areas will feature free entry all summer. (Don't worry - if you've already purchased a season pass, you'll be offered a full refund.)

In my opinion, this is a phenomenal use of tax dollars. Open access to open public space, allowing all individuals and families unlimited access to recreation, relaxation, and fun. Thumbs up.

Swimming area 1 at Island Beach State Park
Swimming area 1 at Island Beach State Park (NJ DEP)
loading...

In the past, the state has played around with free state park access, including for active military and veterans. And, of course, who could forget the infamous Vax Pass of 2021, where residents of NJ with at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine could earn the incentive of free full-season access to state parks.

In 2022, however, free access is being implemented on a much larger scale. No strings attached. No residency requirements. No limits. Just plain free.

However, I fear this free access is going to turn into a major headache for one facility in particular: Island Beach State Park.

Island Beach State Park
Island Beach State Park (Shawn Michaels, Townsquare Media NJ)
loading...

IBSP is a very popular Jersey Shore destination sharing a barrier island with Mantaloking, Lavallette, Seaside Heights, Seaside Park, and the South Seaside Park section of Berkeley Township. It features quiet and clean beaches, attentive lifeguards, natural landscapes, and beautiful views. Plus, the swimming beaches have easy parking access and — bonus! — full bathroom facilities.

According to the NJ DEP web site, New Jersey residents usually pay $10 per vehicle to enter on summer weekends, $6 per car on summer weekdays, and $5 during the off-season. Non state residents are charged $20, $12, and $10, respectively.

Island Beach State Park
Island Beach State Park (Island Beach State Park)
loading...

In the summertime, when the park opens at 8 a.m., there is almost always a huge line of cars waiting to enter and hit the beach. Especially on beautiful, warm, sunny summer days. Especially on weekends. Especially on holiday weekends.

Traffic can get pretty nightmare-ish throughout South Seaside Park during peak season.

And then, when the Island Beach swimming beach limited parking lots fill to capacity, the park closes. Only Mobile Sport Fishing Vehicles are allowed in at that point.

Entrance to Island Beach State Park blocked on Saturday
(Vin Ebenau/Townsquare Media NJ)
loading...

Usually the park will reopen as people start to leave in the early afternoon. But for those still sitting in traffic when the gates shuts, what do you do? Wait it out? Divert to another (paid) beach? Give up and go home?

A free beach is a very rare thing in New Jersey. But "free" is going to make Island Beach State Park an even more popular destination this summer. Which unfortunately means we'll have a lot more "closure" days throughout the summer.

If you have to arrive at the crack of dawn to ensure a parking spot and a place on the sand for the day, is it really worth it in the end?

Who can forget Island Beach State Park's most infamous moment, when Governor Chris Christie had the beach to himself during the 2017 NJ government shutdown. (Photo courtesy Dave Bobal)
Who can forget Island Beach State Park's most infamous moment, when Governor Chris Christie had the beach to himself during the 2017 NJ government shutdown. (Photo courtesy Dave Bobal)
loading...

Dan Zarrow is Chief Meteorologist for Townsquare Media New Jersey. He loves the Jersey Shore, but dislikes heat, green flies, and seagulls. Follow Dan on Facebook or Twitter for your latest weather forecast updates.

CHECK OUT: All the free beaches in New Jersey

The Jersey Shore is notorious for charging for access to the beaches. But there are a few that let you get in for free.

NJ beach tags guide for summer 2022

We're coming up on another summer at the Jersey Shore! Before you get lost in the excitement of sunny days on the sand, we're running down how much seasonal/weekly/daily beach tags will cost you, and the pre-season deals you can still take advantage of!

The scenic backroads to Long Beach Island

More From Cat Country 96.7 /104.1