Fire Island

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.

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7 Responses

  1. Marcheline says:

    I was one of those school field trippers… it was in sixth grade. Our fearless teacher, Mr. Sherman, took our entire class, by himself (no parents!) for a whole WEEK. We stayed in cabins, cooked our own meals, learned survival skills outdoors, did beach walks and treasure hunts, and aside from one very well-scheduled “panty raid”, there were no shenanigans. Mr. Sherman was one of the most engaging and intelligent people I’ve ever met, but no student wanted to be on his bad side. It was a wonderful week – we learned about the sunken forest, the way the saltwater in the wind keeps the trees a uniform height, and a million other cool facts. Because he showed us how to prepare, to cook, to take care of ourselves, we took so much more away from that week than just a chance to be out of school.

  2. Sharry A. says:

    My dad’s boss used to have his summer home on Fire Island, and sometimes, he’d invite our family to come and spend the day with his family. We’d barbeque, ride bikes, go down to the beach. As a city kid, this was like heaven on Earth for me.

  3. John says:

    I remember my first time there. I had my car dealers license and sold many 4 wheel drive vehicles back in the day. I had a Jeep Wagoneer that was a common vehicle of choice for those that lived on fire island and one night just after Hurricane Gloria came through I drove from Smith Pt. Park to Fire Island then back home. I wasn’t supposed to be driving in certain areas but with the police busy with after storm activities they weren’t looking for those driving without a permit. I drove through sunken forest and all those areas at night after the damage done by the hurricane. I fit in as I was driving what everyone else pretty much drove there. I always wanted to go explore there because my parents always brought us to field 4 of Robert Moses and said we weren’t allowed to go there because its all private. So that night I enjoyed exploring up close and personal what I had wanted to see for a long time. In the end my heart rate finally came down from all the excitement as I drove over the causeway bridges knowing I had thwarted the police. lol

  4. Jeanne says:

    I spent every summer growing up on fire island. I live in the Midwest now and miss the ocean terribly. Just spent some time on Long Island, and I went to fire island. It was pure bliss. Just taking the ferry to ocean beach and roaming around the beach and having lunch at cjs on a beautiful warm November day. Love it! Always a east coaster!

  5. LDN says:

    One of my memories of Fire Island was when my parents took me and my siblings us on a bird watching hike with the Long Island Bird Society. We hiked the length of the island in the sand on a fall day. The facilitators offered the large group of mostly elderly people water from an artesian well when the hike began, it was rusty tasting, most people thought it was gross; however to teach us how not to take things for granted, we were reintroduced to the artesian well at the end of the trip that sunny afternoon, everyone young and old (who didn’t bring a canteen) was desperately huddling around it for their turn for a drink of water. My sister who actually appeared to enjoy birding, was in the local newspaper with other interested participants of the hike.

  6. River Jones says:

    I was a Mothers Helper on Fire Island in 1973 & 1974, my junior and senior years in high school. My first job was in Ocean Beach and 2nd job was in Fair Harbor. I was a good employee during the days but when we were off work in the evenings, we were allowed to cut loose, and boy did we! I have some wild tales to tell, for sure! (no school field trips for this teenager!)

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