Finding Shade on Cape Island
“Sit quiet by my side in the shade And not the kind that’s thrown I mean, the kind under where a tree has grown”-Taylor Swift, Paris
It’s Saturday, and you’ve made it to Cape May for your summer visit. You stop at your B&B or hotel in just enough time to throw everything into a room and change into your bathing suit, grab the beach tags, the beach chairs, the bag of necessities including your water bottle, sunscreen and that book you’re psyched to start reading. You beeline it to the beach as fast as you can, and you’re there. You exhale. It’s blissful: the sound of the waves lapping on the shore, the kids playing in the surf, the gulls calling to each other as they fly overhead (if that kid even thinks about throwing his chips to that gull…). The sun feels great on your skin, and you promise yourself you’ll take a dip once you’ve hit your heat threshold. It’s summer. It’s the best of times, and it’s classic Cape May. Maybe you’re the person who can spend seven days straight on the beach, soaking up as much sun as you can, drawing the concerned glances of vacationing dermatologists, and having to be pried off the sand on checkout day so as not to be charged a late fee. Maybe you are. But if you’re like the rest of us, by Tuesday (or perhaps sooner) you’re wondering what you could be doing that doesn’t involve direct solar exposure; let’s give those shoulders a rest, eh? Or maybe you’re beach-adverse to begin with. I know, blasphemous, but my oldest kid happens to be this person and so I reached out to them for some advice for this column. This column, of course, is about finding shade in Cape May, in the summer.
Take a look at an aerial view of Cape May and you’ll see something noticeably different when compared to the barrier islands to our north: lots and lots of greenery. Cape Island has the benefit of nearly 100 years of habitat preservation, resulting in a very vegetated landscape even despite all the development. For shade-seekers this means many opportunities to duck out of the sun. So, where does my kid head when the rest of us are lobbying for the beach? “I go to Wilbraham Park [in West Cape May]” they told me and added: “I have a favorite tree I climb up into and I disappear. People walk under and by me and never know I’m there.” I didn’t even bother to ask which tree—that would be too specific, and I wouldn’t hear the end of it if they showed up only to find someone occupying their perch.
Some of my personal favorite shady spots are on the trails through Cape May Point State Park. At the start, all three (Red, Blue, and Yellow) trails pass through a stand of cedars known as the “owl woods” because of the propensity for finding owls roosting in them during fall and winter. There’s a peacefulness in the dense cedars which I find different than in other tree stands, and I love to just sit in there with my eyes closed, enjoying the reprieve from the heat and humidity present just beyond the entrance to the woods. If you continue along the yellow and blue trails, you’ll eventually come to another big conifer stand, this one a mix of cedars and pitch pines. The trail is wide here and the shade is plentiful. Continuing, you will exit the shade onto the boardwalk across the marsh, and then enter a small, wooded island with some nice benches for relaxing. The island also has a boardwalk access to “Al’s Pond” which can be nice for wildlife viewing (but is most definitely not shady, so no more talking about it here).
For the adventurous shade seekers, a hike north from the big parking lot at Sunset Beach through the old Magnesite Plant will put you on the blazed trail to Davey’s Lake. A crown jewel of Cape May, this little oasis is mostly open and exposed, but has some spectacular holly forest that provide some of the most scenic shade for taking a reprieve from the sun, catching a nap, or just hanging out with friends. Finally, sometimes you just need to chase shade to get from point A to point B. As a runner I try and get out early in the morning, before it’s too hot, but realistically that’s not always possible. While I love running on the promenade, or out on the trails around The Nature Conservancy’s South Cape May Meadows Preserve, these sites are as exposed as it gets, and they get H O T. When I’m running in the heat, I find myself sticking close to West Cape May, where mature trees line our streets providing a patchwork of shadows across the neighborhood. I find this incentivizes faster running across the sunny spots and rewarding myself with slower jogs through the shady patches.
Whether you find your shade in a local park, a state park, or in the shade of a street tree, I hope you enjoy seeking out shade during your time in Cape May, and if you see my kid in a tree, be sure to say hi.