Five miles south from Long Island, NY, across the Great South Bay, sits a small, unassuming paradise of sorts. A vacation spot to some, a residence to others, and host to numerous class field trips throughout the years, Fire Island remains one of those natural treasures that, once experienced, lingers in the memory like the face of a long lost friend.
There are no cities, no rush hour traffic (few automobiles are allowed on the island, and only during the off-season) and no towering hotels. Rather it is place of quaint hamlets and of the famous little red wagons that the residents use to transport their groceries.
It is home to a 150-year-old lighthouse that can be seen 20 miles out to sea and served as the first landmark one was likely to witness when traveling by ship from Europe for many a decade.
Fire Island, a designated National Seashore, is also home to a wonderfully strange and tranquil natural habitat called The Sunken Forest. With its twisted trees, eerily misshapen by the sea air and bending to create a natural canopy, its picturesque boardwalk that winds within and a plentiful array of undisturbed plant and animal life, it is a unique experience for adults and children alike.
Over the years, thousands of schoolkids have departed aboard ferries from Long Island to spend a summer day exploring this magical forest. The dunes that surround the forest give the illusion that it resides below sea level, hence the name.
Fire Island, while being almost 30 miles long, is a mere half-mile wide. It is accessible by car at both ends, but most visitors prefer to make the hour-long journey via one of the many ferries that depart regularly from the island.
For those wishing to view the natural beauty of the surrounding environment, Sailor’s Haven is the destination of choice. For those wishing to enjoy the beach life, Robert Moses State Park offers miles of sand to relax and work on a tan.
There is a vibrant nightlife on the island, especially during the summer months and most hamlets offer a number of nightclubs and restaurants. Two hamlets in particular, Cherry Grove and The Pines, cater largely to the vacationing gay community.
A number of celebrities over the years have taken up residence on the getaway island during the summer months, including: Mel Brooks, Truman Capote, Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke (American avant-garde poet, Frank O’Hara lived, and was killed on the island in 1966 from injuries sustained after being hit by a beach buggy).
Fire Island has even made its way into a few films including Garbo Talks and Returning Mickey Stern, as well as being the home of television reality show, One Ocean View.
In 2018, Hurricane Sandy changed Fire Island forever when it was breached in three places. Two of the three were filled in again, but a third is being left alone, as part of a strategy by the National Park Service.
Forever split by nature, Fire Island remains a beautiful and important part of the Long Island landscape, and resides in the memories of millions of former Long Island school kids who took a nature walk through the Sunken Forest back when they were young.
If you have fond memories of visiting Fire Island, perhaps on a school field trip in the 70s, I’d love to hear all of your memories in our comments section.