By MADDY VITALE
Nature lovers have just the right thing to explore in Ocean City. A hidden gem, something little known to visitors and residents, are guided beach tours on the south end of town.
And this year, the tours are free to eliminate the exchange of cash during the coronavirus pandemic. They begin July 1 and run Tuesday mornings at 9 a.m. and Wednesday evenings at 6:30 p.m. through August.
Volunteer beach guides take out groups and share information on environmental topics, including seashells, birds, the ocean, beach vegetation, marine creatures and more.
The guided beach walks run for approximately one hour at Corson’s Inlet State Park.
Bill Stuempfig, 67, of Tuckahoe, and his wife, Carol Jones, 75, have each been guides for years. There are also other volunteer guides in the program.
Jones is one of the volunteers for the Tuesday morning walks and Stuempfig does the Wednesday night walks.
Each beach walk is unique, depending upon the questions raised during the tour and the change in the landscape. Group participants are encouraged to find items along the way for discussion and learning. The guides share knowledge and welcome questions.
People meet at the south end at 59th Street and Central Avenue near the entrance to Corson’s Inlet State Park. While the guides don’t take people on the trails, they stick to the shoreline to discuss the abundant marine life, plant life and wildlife.
“We go up to the top of the trail and explain to them about (Hurricane) Sandy and how the beaches were rebuilt. We also explain the diverse plants,” Stuempfig pointed out. “There is a lot of golden rod and beach plum right as you go onto the beach at the very south end. We talk about birds, fish, the weather and the waves.”
Stuempfig, who has been a guide for the walks for 15 years, said he enjoys teaching families about the Jersey Shore.
He grew up on the bay in Ocean City and has been a boat captain since he was 18. He is currently a professional nature tour guide in Cape May and surveys osprey for the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife.
While the pandemic has resulted in the cancellation of many other events throughout the shore, Stuempfig said the tours offer a great way for people to safely gather.
“It is safe. It is fun and you learn,” Stuempfig said. “I think even with the coronavirus we will all be careful. Even though you are having fun you are still learning. We will show rather than hand things around this year.”
He added that the six feet of separation called for in social distancing guidelines is also possible on the tours and if they are too large, they will be split into two sessions.
Jones, a retired teacher, became a guide five years ago and loves every minute of it, she said.
“I was a teacher all my life. I spent my last 20 years teaching in Woodbine. When I retired it, I missed it a lot,” Jones said. “Giving the tours is perfect for me. Most of the people come with their kids and the kids just love everything you show them. It is really a good replacement for me.”
Stuempfig and Jones agreed that while they are imparting their knowledge about the shore and its ecosystem, kids teach them a thing or two.
“Kids come up with amazing answers,” Stuempfig noted.
The guides ask the groups questions such as how many mammals they think live in the inlet.
“There is diverse wildlife in Corson’s Inlet. There are actually deer living there,” he added, noting he could name at least 10 types of mammals that live there.
The families also learn how to tell what type of species made tracks in the sand.
“A lot of the tracks at the beach are cool to show people. You will see the trails of fox. The wrack line, which marks the high tide, is also a really neat place because you will find a lot of things in there from seaweed to some little critters,” Stuempfig said. “We like to teach people things. That is what my life has been, teaching people on the water, and Carol is a natural with the kids.”
For more information about the free beach guided beach walks visit https://oceancityvacation.com/things-to-do/kids-activities/nature-walks.html