Jesse Fried • Jun 14, 2017
The wider, northern portion of Sandy Hook home to Fort Hancock
Sandy Hook marks the top of the coast and the bottom of New York Harbor. Located right where the shape of our state takes sudden 90 degree turn, this hook-shaped penninsula of sand continues north for five miles by itself, past where the rest of Central Jersey has given way to the Raritan Bay.
The wind and coastal current flow north along Central Jersey's coast, so Sandy Hook seems to be an accumulation of all of the sand that travels up the coast. Material continues to be accreted further north until deeper water and other currents in the Raritan Bay change its direction and stop its momentum. The shape of Sandy Hook is always changing, though it doesn't seem to be growing or shrinking necessarily. Apparently in the 19th century a storm opened up a channe near Sea Bright, making Sandy Hook an island for a while.
The peninsula widens to the north, and is covered with a scrubby forest composed mostly of holly. This is the only area I've ever seen holly as a canopy tree, and here it is dominant everywhere. Pitch Pine, which one might expect on a barrier island, does not seem to be especially common.
Like many of New Jersey's most interesting places, Sandy Hook has a distinctly weird vibe. It used to house a military base, Fort Hancock, whose gun batteries stood ready to defend New York Harbor against naval invasions, until our post-war reliance on air power and nuclear weapons rendered such operations quaint. Today Fort Hancock's buildings slowly decay under the management of the National Park Service, which administers the sandy peninsula (or hook) as part of the Gateway National Recreation Area.
The people of New Jersey now visit this former fortress on summer days for Atlantic bathing. Indeed, it is the northernmost beach of the Jersey Shore. "Sandy Hook Parking Lot Full" is a familiar message spotted along the Garden State Parkway en route south to NJ's beach towns on hot summer weekends. Camping is available here too.
Though I'm not a surfer, it is my understanding that bathymetric features are especially favorable to surf conditions at some particular, well-known spot at Sandy Hook. I think the term "point break" has something to do with it.
The New York City skyline is visible across Raritan Bay from the beach here, in a beautiful vista that juxtaposes the wilderness of the ocean with the center of global capitalism. Many New Jerseyites traditionally question the cleanness of Sandy Hook's waters for swimming, citing its proximity to highly industrialized areas along the Raritan and New York Harbor, sewage disposal areas, and reported locations of hypodermic needles washing up along the shore. While these concerns most certainly were valid in the mid 20th century, one can only hope that environmental protection laws, the decline of industry in our region and advances in sewage treatment technology have lessened the health risk to bathers.