Cheesequake State Park

of Monmouth County

Jesse Fried • Jun 14, 2017

Several early experiences with this park on the coast of Raritan Bay in Central Jersey have led me to associate it with boredom and mild dread. Situated around the Garden State Parkway in the Raritan Bayshore suburbs of Central Jersey, partway between the Northern cities and the Shore, Cheesequake has served for some North Jersey parents with small children as a closer, more low-key outdoor recreation destination than the beach. It is in this capacity, as a small child, that I first beheld the small lake developed with an artificial sand beach and a snack bar:Visiting with a friend from elementary school and her mom, I remember looking longingly at the snack bar options but feeling the social awkwardness of asking someone else's mom to buy you a snack. Perhaps, although memory fails me here, is that sandwiches (likely mushy), carrot sticks, and other healthy but disappointing options were provided to me free of charge, and I didn't want to appear ungrateful.Short trails lead away from the swimming area. I now understand that these trails travel a remarkable diversity of ecosystems in a short space: salt marsh, upland northern hardwood forest, freshwater swamp, pine barrens. As an ecologically innocent child, wearied of the diversions of the lake and snack bar, I ventured on to these trails once, accompanied by my own mother. We reached an open meadow with the Parkway passing through it a short distance away. Entranced by the fast cars, I wanted to make the highway our destination, and my mom agreed. As it turned out, we had encountered the edge of one of Cheesequake's salt marshes, and each step forward led us deeper into mud. My mom encouraged me to turn around, but I was stubborn. I persisted for a while until my legs were tired from negotiating increasingly deep mud, what I saw ahead only got wetter. Standing knee-deep in the muck with the loud and fast parkway just ahead but inaccessible, I experienced a perplexing feeling of frustration and futility as I realized I had to turn around. Most New Jersey residents pass through Cheesequake State Park, even if many don't know it, on the Parkway.