- Associated Press - Sunday, May 28, 2017

MANASQUAN, N.J. (AP) - Beach badges, as much a part of summer at the New Jersey shore as sunscreen and salt water taffy, have changed little since the practice of charging to use the public beaches began during the Great Depression.

While some towns have slowly begun to move into the digital age with apps to buy the badges, beachgoers up and down the coast this summer will still need to wear badges. Electronic beach badges are still a thing of the future.

The town that claims in 1929 it became the first to require badges is the latest to offer an app for residents and visitors to purchase badges.

“It just made perfect sense because it was the last part of commerce that the town engages in that didn’t have that option,” said Bradley Beach Mayor Gary Engelstad.

Asbury Park, Manasquan, Seaside Heights, Longport and Ventnor City were already offering the mobile option. Sea Isle City has a vending machine.

Heading into the Memorial Day weekend, more than 20 percent of badges in Manasquan sold were ordered online.

For residents and visitors, the app is a convenient way to pay.

“People use their phones to Uber, fly and travel via train. It makes sense for them to be able to access the beach with their phones too,” Wall Township resident Joe Belko said while walking on the beach walk in Mansaquan.

Most New Jersey towns charge to use public beaches when lifeguards are on duty between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Atlantic City and the Wildwoods do not charge.

During the Great Depression, Jersey shore towns started issuing buttons, badges or tags. At the time, Bradley Beach officials said they were confident the system would correct overcrowding caused by “free bathers,” according to an Asbury Park Press story in August 1929.

“Beach badge funding represents a kind of ambiguity,” said Rutgers University American Studies professor Angus Kress Gillespie. “On the one hand you could say it’s a rational response to additional expenses such as lifeguards and police. But on the other, it’s a cultural beach badge tax that represents a kind of hostility toward visitors.

“It was a way to stick it to the people from up north and is reflected in folklore and slang used by year-round residents who viewed the visitors as rude and flashy.”

These days, even residents complain about paying to use the beaches and many point to the federal funding of beach replenishment projects after Superstorm Sandy as a reason not to charge. However, efforts to end the practice have never advanced in the Legislature.

Eventually, officials said, electronic beach badges that can be swiped at entryways will replace the plastic ovals with pins that adorn swimsuits and beach bags.

Bob Amon, of Beach Haven, who started collecting beach badges in 1972, chuckles at the thought.

“I guess that’s the wave of the future, but if there is a last one, I want to make sure I have them all,” he said.


Follow Marsh on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/smarshAP

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