By MATTHEW SOCKOL
Going to the beach isn’t the only way to have fun in the water.
As beaches become crowded in the summer months, residents of central New Jersey have closer options available to spend their time in the water, as well as explore and traverse through nature.
Throughout Monmouth and Mercer counties, several waterways allow residents to travel upon them with kayaks, canoes and other small watercraft.
The Monmouth County Park System offers various locations for paddlers to explore the waterways of the county. According to Public Information Officer Karen Livingstone, the Park System has acquired several waterways over the years to provide boaters with a sizable number of access points to Monmouth County’s waterways.
“We have many opportunities for boaters,” Livingstone said. “The waterways are very popular.”
Parks in the Monmouth County Park System with canoe and kayak access open at 7 a.m. year-round, with the exception of the Manasquan Reservoir, which opens at 6 a.m. from April 1 to Oct. 31. Through Aug. 15, the parks will close at 9 p.m. After that date, parks will close at 8:30 p.m. for the remainder of August. From Sept. 1-23, the parks will close at 8 p.m.
Three parks offer watercraft rentals: Manasquan Reservoir, Turkey Swamp Park and Thompson Park.
At the Manasquan Reservoir, which is located at 311 Windeler Rd., Howell, visitors at least 18 years of age can rent rowboats, electric-motor-powered rowboats, kayaks and sailboats for use at the reservoir.
The rental prices for rowboats are $14.49 for one hour and $35.51 for four hours. Electric-motor-powered rowboats are $46.26 for four hours. Single kayaks are $14.49 for one hour, and double kayaks are $20.56 for one hour. Sailboats are $55 for two hours.
Rowboats and kayaks can be rented between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. The watercraft must be returned by 7 p.m. A $10 deposit is required for a one-hour rental and $20 for a four-hour rental.
The park offers 15-foot American sailboats, which can seat two to three people, and 12-foot Laser Pico sailboats, which can seat one adult and one child. For sailboat rentals, preregistration at least 48 hours in advance is required by calling 732-842-4000, ext. 4238. The sailboat rentals are available until Aug. 31.
Visitors may also use the park’s boating ramp to launch sailboats, kayaks and canoes of their own. Usage of the boating ramp requires a boat launch pass. Daily passes are $6 and seasonal passes are $46.
All boats at the Manasquan Reservoir are rented at the Visitor Center, which can be contacted by calling 732-919-0996.
The park also offers 45-minute tours of the reservoir on weekends, Wednesdays and the first Friday of the month. The weekend tours run from May 7 to Sept. 25 at 2 p.m., 3 p.m., 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. The Wednesday tours run from July 6 to Aug. 31 at 2 p.m., 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. The upcoming Friday tours will run on Aug. 5 at 6:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and Sept. 2 at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m.
The tour allows attendees to view local wildlife, including turtles, egrets, herons and ospreys. Admission is $6 for adults and $4 for children 12 and under. To confirm attendance, call 732-751-9453.
At Turkey Swamp Park, which is located at 200 Georgia Rd., Freehold Township, visitors can rent kayaks, canoes and paddle boats to access the park’s lake. Through Labor Day, boats can be rented daily, and from Labor Day through Columbus Day, boats can be rented on weekends.
Other than double kayaks, all boats at Turkey Swamp Park can be rented for $14.49 for one hour and $35.51 for four hours. Double kayaks can be rented for $20.56 for one hour. Additional 15-minute intervals can be purchased for $4.44 each.
A deposit of $10 is required for an individual boat rental. A group rental of three boats is $26.
At Thompson Park, which sits at 805 Newman Springs Rd., Lincroft, visitors can rent canoes to access Marlu Lake. Rentals are $15 for two hours.
Canoes can be rented between 10 a.m.-3 p.m. on the weekends of Aug. 13, 14, 27 and 28 and Sept. 10, 11, 24 and 25.
Intermediate and expert paddlers can bring their kayaks or canoes to the Manasquan River Greenway, which offers access to the Manasquan River at four locations in Howell: 106 Havens Bridge Rd., 51 or 53 Ketcham Road, 154 W. Farms Rd. and 206 Southard Ave. Paddlers must bring their own boats as rentals are not provided.
The Monmouth County Park System advises paddlers to use caution when navigating the Manasquan River due to natural obstructions and fluctuating water levels.
The Manasquan River can also be accessed at a bridge located by the Howell Park Golf Course, 405 Squankum-Yellowbrook Rd,. Farmingdale.
As with the Greenway locations, this area of the waterway is recommended for intermediate and expert paddlers, who must bring their own kayaks or canoes. Paddlers cannot enter the golf course itself; the bridge is the only access point to the Manasquan River.
Bayshore Waterfront Park, which is at 719 Port Monmouth Rd., Port Monmouth, allows boaters to access Sandy Hook Bay with kayaks, canoes, windsurfers and other car-top vessels. Boaters must provide their own watercraft as rentals are not provided.
A new addition to the Monmouth County Park System is Swimming River Park, 475 W. Front St., Middletown, which offers access to the Navesink River. Boat rentals are currently not available at the park so boaters must provide their own vessels. Ramp fees for kayaks, canoes and rowing shells are $10 per day and $50 for the season.
For more information about the Monmouth County Park System, call 732-842-4000, ext. 4312.
Also offering boating on the Navesink River in Monmouth County is the Red Bank Marina, 261 W. Front St., Red Bank, which is open from 7 a.m.-5 p.m., seven days a week. Visitors can rent rowboats, pontoon boats, motor boats, canoes and kayaks.
The rental prices are $60 for rowboats, $110 for motorboats, $350 for half-day pontoon boats, $500 for full-day pontoon boats, $25 for canoes, $20 for single kayaks and $40 for double kayaks. The pontoon boats, which can seat 10 people, must be reserved in advance.
Marina owner Steve Remaley made note of its location off of Garden State Parkway Exit 109, which he described as convenient for those traveling south.
“It’s nice to get out in the water and enjoy yourself for the day,” Remaley said. “And you don’t have to come down to Toms River when you come from Staten Island.”
The Red Bank Marina can be contacted by calling 732-741-3320 and by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In Mercer County, Griggstown Canoe and Kayak Rental and Princeton Canoe and Kayak Rental offer boating on the Delaware and Raritan Canal. Both rental services are open from 11 a.m.-8 p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m.-8 p.m. on weekends. Rentals are available until 7 p.m.
Griggstown Canoe and Kayak Rental, which is located at 1076 Canal Rd., Princeton, provides access to the portion of the canal between Trenton and New Brunswick. Princeton Canoe and Kayak Rental, 483 Alexander St., Princeton, provides access to the portion of the canal near Stony Brook and Lake Carnegie.
Both rental services offer aluminum and three-seater canoes. Aluminum canoes are $16 for an hour, $8 for additional hours and $40 for an entire day. Three-seater canoes are $19 for an hour, $8 for additional hours and $45 for an entire day.
The 9.5-foot, 12-foot and twin kayaks, which can seat two occupants, are offered by the rental services. The 9.5-foot kayaks are $13 for an hour, $6 for additional hours and $30 for an entire day. Twelve-foot kayaks are $16 for an hour, $6 for additional hours and $35 for an entire day. Twin kayaks are $19 for an hour, $8 for additional hours and $45 for an entire day.
Steve Androsko, who owns both rental services, described paddling as a way to experience nature.
“It’s a family activity that you can do to enjoy nature,” Androsko said. “You can get away from everything. This is one of the few places in New Jersey where you won’t see a single car.”
Griggstown Canoe and Kayak Rental can be contacted at 908-359-5970. Princeton Canoe and Kayak Rental can be reached at 609-452-2403.
At Mercer County Park, which stands at 1638 Old Trenton Rd., West Windsor, the Mercer County Park Commission is offering pontoon boat and kayak tours of Mercer Lake in August and September.
The pontoon boat nature tours will take place on the Thursdays of Aug. 4, 11 and 25 and Sept. 1 from 12-1:30 p.m. and 2-3:30 p.m. The tour will allow attendees to experience flora, such as Rose Mallow, and fauna that reside by the lake, such as blue herons and painted turtles.
Tickets can be purchased at the park’s marina on the days of tour beginning at 11:30 a.m. The price of admission for Mercer County residents is $10 for adults and $8 for children and seniors. For out-of-county residents, tickets are $12 for adults and $10 for children and seniors. Children must be at least 6 years of age to go on the pontoon tour. The pontoon boats seats 15 people.
For more information about the pontoon boat nature tours, call 609-448-4004.
The kayak tours will take place on the Fridays of Aug. 12 and 26 and Sept. 9 and are for ages 16 and up. Admission is $25 for Mercer County residents and $30 for out-of-county residents.
Those who participate in the tours will kayak along the shore of Mercer Lake and be able to access the lake’s creeks and coves. Basking turtles, songbirds and carnivorous plants may be seen by participants. Basic kayak instructions will be provided before the tour.
Participants must preregister by contacting 609-888-3218 or email@example.com.