South Cape May Meadows Preserve
South Cape May Meadows Preserv Cape May County, New Jersey © TNC/Erika Nortemann

Places We Protect

South Cape May Meadows

New Jersey

South Cape May Meadows is a globally renowned birders paradise.

Situated at the southwest tip of the Cape May peninsula, the South Cape May Meadows Preserve includes more than 200 acres of critical habitat in the globally renowned birding hot-spot of Cape May, New Jersey. The peninsula acts as a funnel for birds migrating along the Atlantic Flyway. While the land protected here provides foraging and resting habitat for birds before they migrate across the Delaware Bay, the preserve also supports a wide variety of bird sand other wildlife year-round.

The nature preserve is replete with dunes, freshwater wetlands, meadows, ponds and a full mile of protected beach. The trail system provides visitors with wildlife viewing opportunities opportunities through the preserve’s many habitats including the undeveloped beach, a rarity on the heavily developed Jersey shoreline. An estimated 90,000 visitors enjoy the preserve’s natural beauty each year.

Historic Connection:

Established in the 1840's, South Cape May was once a Victorian resort town boasting modest vacation cottages until a storm surge washed much of the town away during the 1950’s. Today, remnants of the town lie offshore, scattered on the ocean floor. The few homes that survived were re-located to the nearby communities The Borough of West Cape May and City of Cape May. Also gone is an open meadow grazed by cattle on the outskirts of the town. The cows were moved to more nutritious pastures shortly after the Conservancy established the preserve, without grazing the area vulnerable to the common and highly invasive marsh reed, Phragmites australis, which quickly overtook the wetland and meadow habitats.

Ecosystem Restored

Over the years, the face of the nature preserve has dramatically changed, especially since 2004, when the Conservancy teamed with the Army Corps of Engineers and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) to restore freshwater wetland and beach ecosystems. The goal was to return the degraded landscape to a more productive and natural state in order to protect local communities from coastal flooding and benefit wildlife. This ecosystem restoration project entailed:

  • Rebuilding and nourishing an eroded beach,
  • Recreating a stable dune system
  • Reeastablishing a pathway offlow of fresh water through the wetland,
  • Restoring diverse native vegetation by controlling invasive plants
  • Creating shorebird foraging and resting areas within the wetland, and
  • Installing water control structures which allow management of water levels in the wetland to reduce flooding of communities and optimize conditions for wildlife seasonally.

Location:  West Cape May Borough, Lower Township, Cape May County

Acres protected:  218 acres

Established: 1981

What to See

Plants
No longer dominated by Phragmites, the plant community in the freshwater wetland is dominated by rose mallow and cattails. Along the trails and throughout the meadow, visitors can enjoy a variety of waving grasses, rushes and sedges along with wildflowers including marsh pink, blue mist flower and seaside fleabane. The beachfront supports a diverse shore plant community including seaside goldenrod, beach heather, sea rocket and several varieties of primrose.

Animals

The nature preserve’s beachfront is a critical nesting site for federally threatened piping plovers and state threatened least terns, along with American Oystercatchers, a special species of concern.

In addition to the host of migratory raptors, waterfowl, shorebirds and beach nesting birds, the nature preserve’s diverse habitats support many species of mammals, reptiles and insects. Visitors may catch a glimpse of river otters or muskrats swimming through the wetland, see evidence of deer moving through the dunes, cross paths with an eastern box turtle or witness the descent of monarchs during their fall migration.

Check out recent bird sightings and report your own!

The one-mile loop trail leads from the entrance through the wetland to the beachfront, and back. Trails sit atop the wetland’s levees providing a stable surface* and a raised perspective for wildlife viewing.  Additional State Park Connection Trail connect the Preserve’s Main Trail to the trail system of Cape May Point State Park and the East Trail spur takes visitors between the dune and wetland edge to a quieter area of the preserve.

*Please note: trail sections on the beach and those behind the dune are through soft sand and may not be accessible by visitors with strollers or wheelchairs.

Other Preserve Amenities:

  • Gravel parking area with bike rack
  • Information kiosk at entrance with trail map and other information
  • Rain Garden and wildflower meadow area with native plants for bees and butterflies
  • Benches located along trails and at dune crossings
  • A living Green Roof
  • Purple martin nest boxes
  • Staff on site from April to October
  • Scenic overlooks from the dune trails and observation platform
  • Two miles of trails
  • Portable toilet on site from April to October

Download the South Cape May Meadows Nature Preserve Brochure

Peak Times: The nature preserve is teeming with wildlife nearly year round, but a few times are particularly spectacular.

  • From mid-May to mid-June, shorebirds and songbirds migrate along the Delaware Bayshore.
  • May, June and July are the best times to catch a glimpse of American oystercatchers, least terns, piping plovers and black skimmers which nest on the beach during the summer.
  • September and October are also great times to view migrating songbirds, waterfowl, shorebirds, raptors along with monarch butterflies.

Preserve Guidelines: To minimize disturbance of the state protected and endangered species of this nature preserve, please follow these guidelines:

  • Pets are not permitted on the nature preserve's trails.
  • Trails are open to foot traffic only. (A bike rack is available in the parking lot.)
  • Visitors should stay on marked trails.
  • Do not handle or collect any plants or animals.
  • Please carry out all garbage.
  • Swimming is not permitted.

Note: Beach use is limited to nature viewing from March 15-August 31. Stopping, standing, or sitting on the beach, even when viewing nature or taking photographs, can be disruptive to nesting and feeding birds. All beach visitors are asked to keep moving and stay outside of the roped off nesting area.