Image: Ship Bottom, N.J.
Mel Evans  /  AP file
Signs are seen May 15 next to a closed pathway to the beach in Ship Bottom, N.J.
updated 5/26/2007 12:39:17 PM ET 2007-05-26T16:39:17

Welcome to the Jersey Shore! Have a great time, but please don’t dig too deeply in the sand in Surf City (you could get blown up), feed the seagulls in Ocean City (you could catch a disease), or draw dirty pictures in the sand in Belmar (it’s rude).

If you have tummy trouble, don’t even think of going to Sea Bright, and if you come to Spring Lake, leave your spear gun at home. Other beaches won’t let you eat, pick flowers, fly a kite, gamble or ride a camel.

For a state that relies heavily on shore tourism to power its economy, there sure are a lot of things you can’t do here.

“I used to take pictures of signs at the entrance to beaches that had long lists of all the things you couldn’t do,” said Dery Bennett, head of the American Littoral Society’s Sandy Hook chapter. “There was one with a big word ‘NO’ in red letters at the top and all these things listed underneath it, and at the bottom, someone put tape on it and wrote in ‘fun allowed.”’

Many of the beach towns on Long Beach Island, one of New Jersey’s most popular summer vacation spots, have laws prohibiting people from digging deeper than 12 inches in the sand. They stem from an accident several years ago in which a teenager died when a deep hole he was digging collapsed, burying him.

This year, the prohibition is for a different reason: More than 1,000 pieces of unexploded World War I-era military munitions were unwittingly pumped ashore during a winter beach replenishment project decades after being dumped at sea. Authorities say they’ve removed everything they could, but can’t guarantee more munitions don’t remain hidden.

“How can you tell a kid not to dig in the sand?” asked Faith O’Dell, who lives near the beach in Surf City, where most of the fuses were found. “It’s their nature, it’s what kids do. And when your kid says, ‘Why, Mommy, why can’t I dig in the sand?’ what do you tell them, that they could blow themselves up?”

‘A lot of crazy rules’
Ocean City passed a law in January prohibiting the feeding of seagulls from beaches or other public property. Officials say they acted to prevent bird droppings from contaminating waterways and spreading disease, but also note the avian scavengers have just gotten too brazen in recent years.

Most of the beach laws in New Jersey are common-sense — banning glass containers, fires, pets and nudity — while others go a step further.

Belmar, for example, prohibits smoking, gambling, cursing or changing clothes on its beach. It also says no one may “model, draw or depict any obscene or rude figures upon the beachfront.”

“There are a lot of crazy rules on the beachfront,” Mayor Ken Pringle said. “I’ve been on the job 17 years and I can’t ever recall getting a complaint about that. Mostly, it’s just someone’s Frisbee going where it’s not supposed to.”

No diarrhea or camels allowed
In Wildwood, don’t even think about riding a camel on the beach. That law came about after a vendor in 2000 proposed charging people a few dollars to ride on a camel’s back for the quarter-to-half mile it takes to get from the boardwalk to the water’s edge.

“We said no,” Mayor Ernie Troiano said. “Our beaches are as wide as a desert, but you won’t find any camels on our sand.”

Other no-nos in Wildwood: standing under the boardwalk and looking up through slits between the boards as people walk above your head.

Elsewhere on the Jersey shore, it is illegal to possess a spear gun on the beach in Spring Lake. In Brigantine, you can’t impersonate a member of the beach patrol, or “revel, disport or behave in an annoying, boisterous manner, emitting loud cries.”

Meanwhile, the borough of Sea Bright appears to be very interested in your innards. A sign posted at the entrance to the beach commands: “Do not enter the water if you are experiencing or recovering from diarrhea, or have had any signs of symptoms of a gastrointestinal disease in the past seven days.”

‘Hope I don’t get embarrassed’
Bill Mack, the borough’s water safety director, acknowledges that’s something his badge checkers and lifeguards aren’t likely to keep tabs on.

“My primary concern is to keep people from drowning,” he said.

Officials in many New Jersey coastal towns acknowledge that parts of their beach laws are rarely, if ever, invoked. Take Long Branch’s prohibition on parking a baby carriage on the sand within 15 feet of a beach entrance.

“I can’t fathom what the thought process was behind that one,” said Mayor Adam Schneider, who did not know the law existed until a reporter questioned him on it. “We can do a pretty good job of looking foolish when we enforce ‘real’ ordinances, let alone something like this. I just hope I don’t get embarrassed and find out I voted for it in the past.”

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