By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Chip Fluhrer, his wife, Jeannie, and his father, Charles, took cover from the blazing afternoon sun underneath a pavilion at the Townsends Inlet Waterfront Park.
They are longtime admirers of the park at the southern tip of Sea Isle City, but hadn’t visited it for years until Saturday.
The quaint pavilion wasn’t built the last time they were here, so that proved to be a pleasant surprise. They were also happy to find that the park is still an oasis of trees, bushes, flowers and wildlife.
“It’s beautiful,” Jeannie said.
“I like it because it provides a pathway to the bay and inlet,” Chip added.
Permanently protected as open space, this wooded refuge on 94th Street at the foot of the Townsends Inlet Bridge is one of the remaining places in the beach town not gobbled up by development.
Acres of pines, cedars and other trees create a lush, green canopy towering overhead. Dunegrass, bushes and plants blanket the ground to add to the forest-like surroundings.
The park, despite being just steps from the busy summer beaches, is a tranquil hideaway classified as a maritime forest. It is one of Sea Isle’s most significant natural assets.
“It truly is a gem,” city spokeswoman Katherine Custer said. “Being positioned on the inlet and being covered mostly in natural vegetation, it’s a beautiful location for a variety of activities.”
“In addition to being a great place for watching sunsets and to cast a fishing line in the water, many people go there to enjoy the inlet’s beaches,” she continued.
The park’s pavilion has been the setting for countless weddings and family portraits over the years, Custer pointed out.
“In general, it’s a beautiful location,” she said.
Chip and Jeannie Fluhrer, who live in Pennsauken and are visiting Sea Isle for a two-week vacation, marveled at the park’s peacefulness.
“It’s so quiet and nice,” Jeannie said.
Their vacation is also serving as a birthday celebration for Chip’s father, Charles, who turned 93 on Thursday.
Townsends Inlet Waterfront Park is one of the centerpieces of Sea Isle’s Community Forestry Management Plan, an environmentally-friendly program that protects the natural resources on the barrier island.
Sea Isle’s forestry plan began in partnership with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection in 2013. It provides guidelines and objectives for the inventory, maintenance and improvement of the parks, streetscapes, landscaping and vegetation throughout the island.
When entering Townsends Inlet Waterfront Park, visitors immediately see a sign declaring the area as a state Green Acres site that is “dedicated to permanent recreation and open space.”
Other signs sprinkled through the park educate the public about the wildlife and plantlife.
One sign describes how the majestic Monarch butterflies use the park as a stopover during their annual migration from Mexico to the United States to lay their eggs.
Visitors can also read about the importance of the American beachgrass, commonly known as dunegrass, that covers the park grounds. The dunegrass sign also reminds visitors to use the walkways, instead of trampling on the fragile vegetation, with the words “Don’t tread on me!”
Boardwalks and sandy pathways wind through the wooded area, giving visitors a close-up view of the trees, plants and wildlife.
Reflecting the quiet surroundings, park visitors are more likely to hear the discreet chirps of small birds than the boisterous squawks of seagulls hovering over the beaches nearby.
In summer, the park serves as a gathering point for the city’s family-friendly beachcombing tours along Townsends Inlet.
Leo and Joan Judge, two other visitors to the park on Saturday, said it has been one of their favorite spots in Sea Isle for more than 20 years.
The Judges live in Newtown, Pa., and have a summer vacation home in Sea Isle. They said they enjoy the park for picnic-style lunches, bird watching and the tranquil atmosphere.
“It’s a quiet place to sit and relax,” Leo said. “It’s an easy way to get away.”
While ducking underneath the pavilion for some shade, the Judges met the Fluhrers. As they both spoke of how much they enjoy the park, Chip Fluhrer jokingly told Leo Judge not to let anyone else know about the beautiful hideaway so they could keep it all to themselves.
“Keep it quiet,” Chip said with a laugh, lowering his voice while pretending to whisper.