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Staycation, daycation options abound in Garden State

People of all ages enjoy rides along the lazy river at the Crystal Springs Family Water Park in East Brunswick on June 24.

By KATHY CHANG
Staff Writer

Summer is here, and there are plenty of “daycation” and “staycation” ideas for the entire family right here in central New Jersey.

In a matter of minutes, a family can traverse the diversified landscape of Middletown Township in Monmouth County. The township spans 41.4 square miles and includes the beaches of Sandy Hook, park trails and horse farms.

“There’s a little something for everyone,” said Middletown Mayor Gerard Scharfenberger. “We have over 6,000 acres of park land for fishing and hiking — you name it.”

The mayor said Middletown offers history buffs days of explorations from the historic properties on Sandy Hook, such as the lighthouse, to the 1663 Whitlock-Seabrook-Wilson Home — nicknamed the Spy House during the Revolutionary War — located in the Port Monmouth section of the township. There is also a stretch of Kings Highway that was actually an old Native American path known as the Minisink Path.

Many structures and sites on Kings Highway that were standing in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries still stand today, Scharfenberger said. Two of those buildings — Marlpit Hall, which was built in 1756 and the Taylor-Butler House, constructed in 1853 — are owned by Monmouth County.

Scharfenberger said Kings Highway served as the retreat route for the British Army soldiers exiting to Sandy Hook Bay following the Battle of Monmouth.

Manalapan Mayor Mary Ann Musich said the Battlefield State Park on Route 33 is one of the sites to visit in the township she oversees.

“One of the biggest battles during the American Revolution took place there,” she said. “In fact, every year there is a reenactment of the Battle of Monmouth in June. There is a new visitor center with lots of exhibits. In addition, there are walking and hiking trails and great areas to have a picnic.”

In addition to Battlefield State Park, Musich said Manalapan has a beautiful Recreation Center where there is something for every age group.

“We have a splash pad for the young children, playground equipment, a walking trail and all manner of sports activities to enjoy,” she said.

Middlesex County Freeholder Director Ronald G. Rios said Middlesex County offers many opportunities for fun, sun and time with family if you are spending summer at home.

“Take the chance to enjoy the outdoors in one of our county parks, where the activities range from hiking and biking to tennis, basketball, disc golf and even boating,” said Rios. “Our parks have a host of programs, activities, workshops and features that will inspire you and your family to get out, be active and experience the best of summer fun right in your own backyard.”

Rios said families can visit one of the county’s four golf courses, historic East Jersey Old Town Village in Piscataway or have fun at the Middlesex County Fair held in East Brunswick.

East Brunswick Mayor Kevin McEvoy said the county fair features food, games, rides, livestock, farm equipment, artists and much more.

Freeholder Charles Tomaro, chair of the Infrastructure Management Committee, said the county parks in Middlesex County allow residents to explore all facets of county life from nature to the cultural arts.

The county has 18 active park and recreation facilities and 32 conservation areas.

One of those parks, Thompson Park, sits off of Perrineville Road and Forsgate Drive in Monroe Township.

“In addition to Manalapan Lake [in Thompson Park] there are many picnic areas, a dog park, shuffle board/bocce courts, fishing, tennis, Frisbee football, baseball, basketball and a great mini animal zoo,” said John D. Katerba, township historian for Monroe.

Cheesequake State Park sits in Old Bridge Township offering 1,500 acres of open space featuring wildlife, historical exhibits, trails, a lake for fishing and swimming, information about Native Americans and early settlers and more, said Steve Mamakas, executive officer for the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development.

Tomaro said Roosevelt Park in Edison Township, which is also home to the county’s Plays-in-the-Park, is set for another exciting season of Broadway-caliber performances.

The county serves as the host to a free summer concert series that offers something for all kinds of music lovers at various parks, including the Raritan Bay Waterfront Park at the South Amboy/Sayreville beachfront, Spring Lake Park Gazebo in South Plainfield, Warren Park Mini Theater in Woodbridge Township and Thompson Park in Monroe and Jamesburg.

John Hagerty, communications director for Woodbridge Township, said the township offers a Mayor’s Summer Concert Series. He also said people can visit the Woodbridge Farmers Market each Wednesday afternoon at Parker Press Park.

Nancy Goldberg, recreation director for Metuchen Borough, said attendees can enjoy free outdoor concerts held Thursday evenings at the senior center parking lot in August.

Visitors can see historic sites in Edison and Monroe townships.

Katerba said Monroe has the Historic Dey Farm, a sprawling, preserved farm that is over 40 acres at 401 Federal Road between Perrineville and Applegarth roads.

He said in addition to two period farmhouses, the township, on June 18, dedicated the newly renovated Henry L. Miller 1850s one-room schoolhouse and 1830s barn on the property.

“Historic displays can be enjoyed from Monroe’s past in the Charles Dey House, schoolhouse and barn,” said Katerba.

The site is open from dawn until dusk, and open house tours are held on the first Sunday of each month from 1-4 p.m., he said.

Guests can tour the Edison Memorial Tower and Museum located on Christie Street in the Menlo Park section of Edison Township where Thomas Edison patented 400 inventions, including the phonograph and devices for light and power generation.

Afterwards, guests can hike the Stevens Memorial Wildlife Preserve on Petti Lane. The Stevens Preserve is about 200 acres and was the scene of the 1777 Battle of Short Hills, according to Tony Gallotto, communications director for Edison Township.

For those hot summer days, Crystal Springs Water Park in East Brunswick is a great site to visit, according to Mayor McEvoy.

“It’s one of the largest of its type in New Jersey and is open seven days a week from 10 a.m.-8 p.m.,” he said.

The park, which is the first municipal water park in New Jersey, is open to the general public and provides a special rate for East Brunswick residents.

It offers an activity pool, kiddie pool, lap pool, a lazy river, recreational pool, a splash pool and water slides.

After getting wet in East Brunswick, people can head down to Raceway Park in Old Bridge Township, which hosts both motor and non-motor events, said Mamakas.

He said people can enjoy the boardwalk in Laurence Harbor and Old Bridge’s annual Salt Water Day Aug. 13 at the beachfront overlooking the Raritan Bay.

During the summer, Mamakas said people can enjoy the monthly community Classic Car Show at The Shoppes at Old Bridge, the township’s YMCA and the Thomas Warne Museum featuring the history of Old Bridge and other local areas.

Talking about the beach, people can travel down to the City of Long Branch, which Danna Kawut, program and special event coordinator for the city, said has a great deal to offer as a “staycation” destination.

“Long Branch has three miles of beautiful beaches with great surfing, fishing and other water activities, as well as a newly completed boardwalk with comfort stations to provide refreshments,” said Kawut.

The West End section of the city has great shopping and dining and a short walking distance to the beaches. Pier Village is located right on the beach and has wonderful shopping and dining, she added.

Long Branch has free concerts every Sunday night at West End Park and Thursday nights at Pier Village, all from 7-8:30 p.m.

“Families can also find beautiful parks, such as Manahasset Creek Park, West End Park and Jerry Morgan Park, which provide playgrounds, fishing, tennis courts and basketball courts, as well as the Monmouth County Park System’s Skate Park,” said Kawut.

Little Silver Mayor Bob Neff said the borough’s parks and nature trials are great attractions for locals as is their Post Office Historical Museum near Borough Hall.

Santelle Park, Neff said, provides waterfront access, tennis and a playground, and very soon, the Parker Homestead — a national historic site dating to 1665 — will be open on a regular basis.

“The grounds can be visited now, and are adjacent to a marked nature trail and pond … it’s a beautiful spot,” he said. “Little ones love the playgrounds at Sickles Park, and sailors, water skiers and fishermen and fisherwomen enjoy the Shrewsbury River, which borders a large portion of our town [in Monmouth County],” he said.

For a fun time indoors, visit iPlay America on Schanck Road in Freehold Township. The venue draws thousands of visitors a week.

“Our climate-controlled indoor theme park is a great place to beat the heat and hide from the rain all summer long,” said Jessica Schwartz, vice president, sales and marketing for iPlay America, LLC. “We have rides and attractions like our 4-D movie theater, a new spinning coaster, New Jersey’s largest indoor high ropes course, laser tag, go-carts and more.”

Schwartz said iPlay America’s arcade hosts more than 200 of the newest and old favorite games.

“Plus, our full-service bar and grill allows families to come together for an excellent sit-down meal,” she said. “If you are looking for something quick to eat, you can take advantage of our boardwalk-style food on our authentic boardwalk complete with Midway games.”

Schwartz said there are many options for people of all ages to enjoy.

“We are fun for a family, a group of friends for a night out or to sit at our bar and watch a sporting event,” she said. “We pride ourselves on superior customer service and keeping the park in immaculate shape to give our guests the premier experience they deserve.”

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