By Liz Sheehan |MONMOUTH BEACH – While beachgoers heading to and from the beach on a recent Sunday all looked the same – laden with chairs, towels and even surfboards – they definitely weren’t. Some had paid to use the beach and others had not.A booth sits at the foot of the ramp across the seawall in the parking lot of the bathing pavilion. Here beachgoers can choose to show a seasonal badge or buy a daily pass and head to the left. Or they can head to the right and use the public beach for free.A seasonal or daily pass includes the use of the bathing pavilion and the lifeguard-protected beach. The free beach is unprotected and has no bathroom facilities, save for one portable toilet located near the entrance ramp.There are four free public beaches in Monmouth Beach and another six in neighboring Sea Bright.After coming down the ramp to leave the free beach, Mark Perl, Oceanport, packed his beach umbrella on the back of his bicycle for his ride home. “I’ll never pay to go on the beach,” he said. His choice of a bicycle was wise as there were no parking spaces anywhere near the beach at midday that Sunday.Although Perl said he would never pay for the beach, he probably already has, through his taxes. Hector Mosely, a public information staff member for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said Tuesday that, prior to Super Storm Sandy, the federal government provided around 65 percent of the funds for the rebuilding of beaches, with the state and boroughs paying the other 35 percent. After Sandy, the funds for the beach restoration were paid only by the federal government.Mosely said $75 million was spent on beach replenishment in Monmouth Beach and Sea Bright prior to the storm, with $26 million spent since the October 2012 hurricane.Sea Bright Borough Administrator Joseph Verruni said the towns are required to provide some public access beaches because of the beach renovation funds paid by the federal government.Mark Perl of Oceanport spent a day at the free public access beach right next to the paid beach at the Monmouth Beach Bathing Pavilion.Parking can be a problem for all beachgoers in Monmouth Beach. Another bicycle rider, Gay Lowden of Fair Haven, said she drives to Long Branch, leaves her car at a friend’s house there, and rides a bike to Monmouth Beach.The town sells a parking pass for $40 a season that can be used at the bathing pavilion parking lot and another parking lot a short block from the beach between Surf Road and Valentine Street, but parking is not guaranteed. Some of the streets in the town are marked as no parking, and on sunny summer weekends it is a challenge to locate a parking place.Lowden said she usually comes to the beach between 3 and 5 p.m. for a swim but admits that paying for admission to the beach is really expensive. “I am a single mother,” she said.“It’s our ocean,” Lowden said, adding that New Jersey “is the only place you have to pay to get on the beach.”Stefanie Fishbein, Shrewsbury, who was leaving the beach, said she had not been aware that a free beach was next to the one she had paid to use.That public beach has no sign indicating it is free, or that it has public access. Neither do the three other free public access beaches in the town – at Cottage Road, at Central Road, and across from the Monmouth Beach Cultural Center. Instead there are signs placed on some of the platforms on top of the seawall stating the beach is unprotected, but these can be difficult to spot.The borough places traffic cones to mark the pedestrian crossings on Ocean Avenue to three of its free beaches and has a police force member and a traffic light at the crossing that leads to the free beach at the bathing pavilion. At the cultural center there are three portable toilets in the parking lot for the free beachgoers.The public access beaches in Sea Bright are clearly marked as “Public Access” on the front of the steps that cross the seawall to the beach and are easily spotted by those driving by.But parking is also an issue for those going to the public access beaches in Sea Bright. One person who uses the public access beaches there advised that it is best to come early or late in the day to find a parking spot.Starting from the southern end of Sea Bright, the public access beaches in the town are located at 1500 Ocean Ave., across from the Sunrise/Ocean Reef Condominiums; 9 1/2 Tradewinds Lane, inside the Tradewinds complex; across from 640 Ocean Ave.; across from 568 Ocean Ave.; across from 314 Ocean Ave. and Oceanfront Restaurant/Beachwalk; and across from 224 Ocean Ave., Via Ripa.This article was first published in the July 20-27, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.