It has been a controversy for years and it’s not going away anytime soon. Should beaches in New Jersey be free like they are in most of the country? 

Seaside Heights boardwalk (Matthew White, Townsquare Media NJ)

For years I’m one who would defend the right of towns to charge for use of the beach and I still lean in that direction.  However I do think there needs to be more fairness in the cost that is charged and towns have to recognize they have an obligation to give something back for what you pay to walk on their white sand.

I’m a regular beach goer and like most of us I want the beaches to be clean and protected and realize that comes with a cost.  Most don’t mind paying a fee to cover what is necessary to maintain clean beaches along with a quality staff of lifeguards to safeguard swimmers.I think for many it becomes a problem when they see towns don’t just cover their costs with the sale of beach tags but rather realize a major profit from something created by Mother Nature or whoever you want to credit.  I paid $55 for a seasonal badge in Seaside Park this summer and I fully intend to get my money's worth and don’t really have a problem with that.

The beaches are clean and safe and if I get there 20 or so times this summer it will be a bargain.  But what about those who come down to the shore on a weekend and are faced with a $10 cost to simply get on the beach on a Saturday or Sunday…is that really fair? Couple that with the cost of parking and a day at the beach can be quite costly.  Throw in the fact that bathroom facilities are far from adequate and it makes you wonder why anyone would come back.

I’m not picking on Seaside Park because I’m sure the same can be said for other towns along the New Jersey coast.  Charging somewhere between $3 and $5 a day (adults only, kids must be free) should more than enough to cover any costs of operating a public beach between Memorial Day and Labor Day, especially when you add in parking revenue.

By the way towns might also help local businesses by charging less as visitors would have some extra money to buy food and other goods.  In addition I think residents and taxpayers in beach towns should pay a nominal fee at best for a season badge…after all they live there and support the town even when visitors leave.

Let me close by saying I am totally against any plan that calls for regionalization or state-run beaches. Let those in Trenton stay out of it.  However if shore towns don’t do a better job than the public demand for change may haunt them later.