Without so much as a last call, the party looks like it might be over – at least for now – at one of Brick's most popular summer hot spots.
F-Cove, made up of two undeveloped man-made lagoons off Barnegat Bay in the shape of the letter 'F,' has been a gathering place for party-minded boaters for decades. It's located just north of the Mantoloking Bridge, west of the ICW channel.
But an effort by the federal government to curtail recreational use of the area appears to be heating up again.
The latest salvo: a number of signs posted at the site which warn boaters that the area is closed beyond the signage.
The explanation: "It is a national wildlife refuge," Virginia Rettig, manager of the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, told Brick Patch. "Any activity that we permit there has to be tied to the needs and requirements of wildlife before they can be tied to what we need to do to recreate."
The area known as F-Cove, once slated to be a residential lagoon community, is owned by the refuge. Rettig explained that only certain types of recreational activities are normally permitted in federal wildlife refuges, and officials must have time to sort out what type of access, if any, should be permitted at F-Cove.
"It's very difficult," Rettig said, referring to limiting public access after a long history of access being available. "I acknowledge that."
Though the site has been part of the refuge for about 20 years, there has never been any clear demarcation of what activities were permitted. There was also a question as to what entity was responsible for the actual waterways in between the refuge lands.
"We now know that it's definitely the Fish and Wildlife service," said Rettig.
The first rumblings about closing F-Cove to recreational boaters came in 2009, when the Fish and Wildlife Service floated a plan to anchor bollards to the bay floor that would physically prevent boats from accessing the site. Federal officials also favored partially filling in the lagoons.
There was an immediate backlash from township officials at the time, as well as environmental group Save Barnegat Bay, which argued access should be maintained.
"To deny thousands of people in the state of New Jersey this simple enjoyment ... for the sake of recreating a few acres of habitat is to lose sight of the very purpose of government, which was originally to benefit people," was a quote included in an organization newsletter at the time.
A call to Save Barnegat Bay President Willie deCamp about the new signs at the site was not immediately returned.
Since the issue flared up in 2009, the federal government had appeared to have backed off.
No final decisions have been made regarding public access to the site this time around, Rettig said. The signs simply mark the refuge boundaries. There has been no determination made as to how the access ban will be enforced, she said.
Other parts of the Forsythe refuge are open to the public, however, including the Holgate portion at the southern tip of Long Beach Island. There, four wheel drive vehicles are free to access the beach.
"We have to decide if it's necessary" to provide public access, Rettig said. "It's a lot to consider."