Wednesday, January 17, 2018

A Frosty Fire Island

March 2, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

frosty fire island 1

The rising sun casts a warm glow across the cold, quiet beach, revealing a landscape at once foreign and familiar. Sand is firm underfoot, refusing footprints at its frozen surface, and the quiet roar of the wind brings with it an unwelcome bite. Only at the water’s edge is the briny smell of the ocean perceptible, the rhythm of crashing waves a comfort. A frosty Fire Island can ignite your passion for adventure and help you escape the winter blues.

The off-season offers the opportunity to experience a side of Fire Island most summer beachgoers miss. You’re sure to be rewarded when you bundle up and explore the barrier island this time of year. New sand formations, like runnels and ripple marks, are carved carefully by the wind and waves each day; early morning visitors can find — and make — fresh tracks in these seaside sculptures. Waves also leave behind a beachcomber’s bounty of tiny treasures like shells and sea glass that sparkle and shine in the bright sunlight.

Hardy hikers will delight in the three-mile round-trip hike to the breach, an opening in the barrier island created by Hurricane Sandy. This walk through undulating back dune habitat and across windswept overwashes weaves through New York’s only federally designated wilderness. At the frozen fringes of wilderness, slender stems of salt hay sag and swaying reeds whisper in the wind. While you may steer clear of this mosquito habitat in summer, a winter or early spring foray finds sting-free solitude among the honeyed hues and snowy stillness of the salt marsh.

LH_Snowy Footseps Lead to the LH Tower_Rogers_January 7 2015Wildlife activity may be the only welcome interruption to the quiet stillness of the beach. Watching the fascinating furry and feathered creatures of Fire Island is one of the most exciting off-season opportunities. Bare branches reveal seed-eating songbirds and snowy owls are found searching tall grasses for their small mammal prey. With a keen eye (or binoculars), you may spot waterfowl dabbling and diving in the ocean and bay. In late winter, it’s not uncommon to sight seals “hauled out” on the beach or swimming just offshore.

Fire Island National Seashore’s park partner- and ranger-led programs provide a closer look at life by the water at this time of year. Walks and talks explore the secret life of seals, the influence of a changing climate on a forest pest from southern climes, and the dynamic nature of the barrier island itself. Budding bird watchers and citizen scientists can assist in the annual Great Backyard Bird Count and history buffs will find fun at the Fire Island Lighthouse and in special programs held on the grounds of the William Floyd Estate.

Spectacular sunsets, solitude, and seals are just a few reasons to visit Fire Island National Seashore during the colder months. Whether you are looking for relaxation or exhilaration, the breathtaking beauty of the barrier island during this chilly time of year provides a stunning setting.

The author is Fire Island National Seashore’s Public Affairs Specialist. Visit www.nps.gov/fiis for more information.

Story and photos by Elizabeth Rogers

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