If you’ve ever wanted to help load a six-inch coast artillery gun, go eye-to-eye with a red-tailed hawk, watch fiddler crabs race to the finish line or be one of the first people in decades to walk through an historic military site, come to Sandy Hook this weekend. Gateway National Recreation Area’s Sandy Hook Unit hosts not one, but two events: Ocean Fun Day on Saturday, May 21 and Coastal Defenses Day on Sunday, May 22. Both events are free of charge. Lunch may be purchased at the event.

Living Historians from the Army Ground Forces Association unloads the six-inch gun at Sandy Hook's Fort Hancock during last year's Coastal Defenses Day.

Ocean Fun Day activities will take place from 11 A.M. to 3 P.M. at Building 22 in Fort Hancock, home of the New Jersey Sea Grant Consortium (NJSGC).

The event is designed to increase knowledge, conservation and sustainable enjoyment of the Jersey Shore. Nearly 50 exhibitors, more than ever before, will be part of this year’s event. The event is presented by New Jersey Natural Gas, in partnership with NJSGC, Asbury Park Press, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, New Jersey Division of Parks and Forestry and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

New for this year's event is a focus on energy conservation and the simple things people can do to save energy. Visitors can learn first-hand from marine scientists, researchers and environmentalists how to conserve energy and preserve our coastal resources.

Visitors can also enjoy eco-tours and bird walks that reveal the area’s diverse local species, touch tanks, ocean treasure plaster casting, fiddler crab races, children’s games with prizes, youth fishing clinics, lots of giveaways and activities concerning the coastal environment. At the Post Theater, visitors can meet live raptors as part of the “Birds of Prey” exhibition sponsored by the Avian Wildlife Center of Wantage, New Jersey.

Monmouth County entries for the Ocean Fun Days Science Fair will be judged at 2 P.M., highlighting science and conservation-based projects related to the Jersey Shore.

Sunday’s Coastal Defenses Day showcases Fort Hancock’s critical role in the defense of New York Harbor from the Spanish-American War through the 1970s.

At 10 A.M. Gateway staff, Army Nike veterans and members of the Army Ground Forces Association will lay a wreath at Fort Hancock's Guardian Park in honor of ten soldiers killed in a Nike Ajax missile accident on May 22, 1958. The brief ceremony also reminds citizens that soldiers stationed at Sandy Hook risked their lives to defend the nation, not only in overseas wars but in homeland operations as well.                         

For the first time in decades, the inner corridors of Fort Hancock’s Mortar Battery will be opened to the public beginning at 11 A.M. The corridors served as the Harbor Defense Command Post during World War II. The Mortar Battery underwent repairs this winter.

“Coastal Defenses Day gives us a great opportunity to educate the public on the vital role that Fort Hancock once played as an active military installation,” said Sandy Hook Unit Coordinator Pete McCarthy.

The Red Trolley, provided by the Sandy Hook Foundation, will offer transportation around Fort Hancock for history tours and free shuttle service to Battery Gunnison and other beach areas.

From 12 noon to 4 P.M., living historians from the Army Ground Forces Association bring Battery Gunnison and its 6-inch guns to life as they were in May 1943. Visitors can help load the artillery guns, visit the magazine and learn how soldiers faced down the threat of Nazi Germany’s U-Boats forces prowling off the Atlantic Coast.

Tours of Battery Potter, Sandy Hook’s oldest gun battery dating from 1894, will take place from 11 A.M. to 4:30 P.M. A spectacular view of New York Harbor and Sandy Hook Bay can be seen from its roof.

The History House, Building 20, will also be open to the public from 11:00 A.M. to 4:30 P.M.  The house is an 1898 lieutenant’s residence along Officer’s Row, furnished in the 1940s manner when Fort Hancock saw its peak population. Living historians in period attire will discuss life on the home front at the fort. Period vehicles will be on display.

The Roseland Amateur Radio Club will conduct shortwave radio broadcasts between 11 A.M. and 3:30 P.M. from the Sandy Hook Lighthouse, the oldest working lighthouse in the United States. Volunteers from the New Jersey Lighthouse Society and park staff will give guided tours to those who wish to climb to the top of the lighthouse. (Stop by the Lighthouse Keepers Quarters early to sign up for a tour on a first come-first serve basis. You must be at least four feet tall to take this tour.)

For more information, call the Sandy Hook Visitor Center at 732-872-5970.

About Gateway National Recreation Area

Established in 1972, Gateway National Recreation Area has more than 26,000 acres of marshes, wildlife sanctuaries and recreational athletic facilities, miles of sandy beaches; indoor and outdoor classrooms; picnicking and camping areas, as well as historic structures and military installations, airfields, a lighthouse, and adjacent waters around New York harbor. The park offers urban residents in two states a wide range of recreational opportunities year round. With more than nine million visitors a year, it is the third most visited national park in the country. For information about Gateway's upcoming public programs, see the park's Web site at http://www.nps.gov/gate/index.htm