Private land is not immune from a possible right of access to the foreshore for swimming or bathing purposes, nor is it immune from the possibility that some of the dry sand may be used by the public incidental to the right of bathing and swimming.
The Bay Head Improvement Association, defendant, is a quasi-public entity that owned portions of the beach in Bay Head, a town right on the Atlantic Ocean. The Borough of Point Pleasant instituted this suit against the Association, generally asserting that the defendants prevented Point Pleasant inhabitants from gaining access to the Atlantic Ocean and beachfront. It was dismissed because the Borough did not own or control the beach, but Virginia Matthews, a resident of Point Pleasant who liked to swim and bathe at the beach, joined as a party plaintiff. Only Association members were allowed to use those portions of the beach, resulting in nonresidents of Bay Head not being able to enjoy the beach, as there were no public beaches.
Does the public have the right to use the dry sand area of a beach not owned by a municipality but that is owned by a quasi-public entity?
The Court reversed in part and affirmed in part. The public trust doctrine acknowledges that the ownership, dominion and sovereignty over land flowed by tidal waters, which extend to the mean high water mark, is vested in the State in trust for the people. The beach is a public place and if it was to be excluded, the public trust doctrine would not exist. Membership in the association must be open to the public at large. Although such membership rights to the use of the beach may be broader than the rights necessary for enjoyment of the public trust, opening the Association's membership to all, nonresidents and residents, should lead to a substantial satisfaction of the public trust doctrine.