In Atlantic City for a conference at the Golden Nugget Casino, I looked out from my room over a landscape of marinas and buildings stretching to the famed boardwalk along the Atlantic Ocean. Off to the north, an arc of grass-fringed estuary quickly vanished from site. I didn’t see many trees, or dunes, or anything resembling parks.
As a Jersey girl until my teens, I remembered our many trips to the Jersey Shore where we’d always make a beeline down the Garden State Parkway for the one pristine piece of oceanfront that my parents loved: Island Beach State Park, at Seaside Park. Most of the Jersey Shore was either hotels or residential, so we’d head for that little pocket of paradise every year, where we could wander the nature trails and enjoy a quiet beach.
On foot in Atlantic City, I had my doubts. But I’d been assured of a nature trail within walking distance of my hotel. They weren’t kidding. When I went to meet our group for a guided walk, it turned out that the trail began right at the end of the Golden Nugget’s parking garage.
Thanks to the state of New Jersey allowing them to keep a small percentage of the casino take for a short period, Atlantic City has invested in itself, turning abandoned lots and empty spots on the map into parks. This particular ribbon of green space runs along the Back Bay, the estuary in the Marina District, is known as the AC Waterfront Sculpture Walk.
For 1.1 miles, a paved path leads you along a panorama of water and marshes, the best place in Atlantic City for birding and to take an unhurried walk in the perpetual breeze. It connects several casinos, including Harrah’s and Borgata, opening up a natural space for visitors to enjoy outside the casino walls.
The path is not new. Walkers have been wandering along the waterfront for years, with anglers always looking for access points to drop a line. But the idea of adding art to the outdoors came in 2013, bringing the Noyes Museum of Art at Stockton College into the picture. The path, now a mixture of pavement and boardwalk, is fully wheelchair accessible.
One boardwalk segment swings out over the water at the Brigantine Bridge, where there is a small park. Interpretive markers about the habitats and their inhabitants are interspersed with art along the walkway.
Small platforms provide perches for birding and photography. There are many benches for resting along the route. Bring a hat and water, as this walk is entirely in the sunshine.
By the mile mark, you see the ACUA windmill farm along the shoreline. It’s the turnaround point for the walk back towards the Golden Nugget and the Farley State Marina. Need to cool down? You can step into the Borgata or Harrah’s for a quick dose of air conditioning.
Finding a nature trail in Atlantic City made me very happy, of course. While my brisk walks down the famed Atlantic City Boardwalk were a must, a relaxing stroll along the Back Bay let me de-stress before the next round of meetings.