Thompsons Beach – Heislerville (Maurice River Township), Cumberland County, NJ
Distance – miles total
Type – 3/4 of a mile (one way) to get to the beach. About a mile of beachfront to explore. Our total was a little over two miles.
Difficulty: ? of 10 (the way we did it, 2 of 10. If that mud and flooding is around, 3018 of 10)
Website – https://corporate.pseg.com/corporatecitizenship/environmentalpolicyandinitiatives/estuaryenhancementprogram
Open – dawn to dusk
Terrain – marsh, bayshore
Surface – crushed shells, sand
Trailheads – 39°12’10.38″N, 74°59’36.77″W
Directions – located at the end of Thompson Beach Road in Maurice River Township, NJ
Parking – Room for 3 or 4 cars in a small lot
Rules – None posted, but long list can be found here
***BIG IMPORTANT NOTE – YOU NEED TO BE AWARE OF THE TIDES WHEN VISITING THOMPSON’S BEACH OR YOU MAY HAVE A VERY WET WALK BACK. Please check the tides using the Internet to make sure you won’t be there anywhere close to high tide!***
So Thompson’s Beach has been on my list of places to visit for much longer than this big, dumb blog has existed (like, back to when I got my driver’s license many eons ago). The info I found on it and rumors I heard always listed tidal issues, broken pavement, and major mud that needed to be dealt with (often calling for muck boots). Whenever I was down this way, the tides were all wrong, so I never got past the viewing area.
Well, the family found ourselves nearby at East Point Lighthouse in April, and I decided to swing by and see what sort of birds we could see. The tide was low, so we decided to venture out across the marshes until it became too muddy to go on….
Thompson’s Beach was once a bayshore town of dozens buildings. There were stores like Captain Kline’s Boat Rentals or Russ’s Rowboats, places to get food or bait for fishing. There were beach parties and neighborhood get togethers, a mix of vacationers and full time residents. But a big storm in the ’50s (classified by some of the insurance companies as a tidal wave) all but wiped out the town, taking a place of 107 homes down to only 7 homes. Folks rebuilt, but another storm in the early 1980s did heavy damage to the town again. By the 1990s, the beachfront and the town had shrunk considerably, and eventually PSE&G took over a big chunk of the land and the township bought out residents or condemned their properties. Many residents were unhappy to leave, but it became a full time nature preserve by the late 1990s.
(I don’t have permission to use them, but there are some old pictures of Thompson Beach on Pinterest from the collection of Katherine Peterson that are well worth looking at here.)
Back to our walk, we kept going and going and going, and never seem to hit any mud at all. We crossed acres and acres of salt marshes that were once farmed for salt hay. This stretch would probably be brutal when the biting insects were out, but today was a perfect day to not get bit!
The highlights of Thompson’s Beach are threefold:
1) Birds. The Delaware Bayshore has some world class birding, and this place it no different. The best time to come here is when the horseshoe crabs are coming up onto the beach to lay their eggs. Migrating birds from all over stop to gorge on the eggs, giving them energy to keep flying north to their nesting areas.
2) Horseshoe crabs – for gazillions of years, horseshoe crabs have been climbing up on these shores to lay their eggs. They are weird spider looking things, and my kids are fascinated by them. Folks come out here to watch the mad piles of horseshoe crab love, the birds that benefit, and to flip over stranded crabs.
3) The remains of this once thriving community – there are still some bulkheads, foundations, and bricks. It’s interesting to walk among them, think about the stories of those who once lived here and loved this place, as well as to reflect that our own towns and neighborhoods maybe aren’t as permanent as we think that they are. Remember to leave things as you found them.
There isn’t really much to share in terms of trail, enjoy a beach walk, the bay, and the company of the wildlife.
After exploring for a few hours, we headed back down the old road right of way back to the car, thrilled that we’d gotten to visit this wonderful place.
Want to read more about Thompson’s Beach? Here are some great books that share about the history and/or the wildlife:
Rumbold, Julie Ann. High Tide, Full Moon, and Fading Memories. Self published, 2017.
Dunne, Pete. bayshore summer: Finding Eden in a Most Unlikely Place. New York: Houghton Harcourt Mifflin, 2010.
Commercial Township Nature Trail is nearby and a lovely walk when the bugs aren’t big enough to carry you into the bay. The Bayshore Discovery Center and AJ Meerwald are also there and well worth the stop. The towns of Bivalve, Shellpile, and Port Norris also have a lot of history and some beautiful buildings.
East Point Lighthouse nearby is beautiful (and now wildly popular) spot to visit. Just last week, they reopened for weekend tours after a long, drawn out dispute with the state. Congrats to the historical society for sticking it out to protect the lighthouse!
Eldora Nature Preserve is also nearby with about three miles of trails
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Birds, horseshoe crabs, beautiful views
The bugs are brutal if you get here the wrong time of year.