Have You Ever Been to Fire Island?

Apr 2012
Last weekend I had a bit of my very own extreme makeover adventure on Fire Island in New York. Before I let you in on that experience, I want to tell you a little bit about the Island itself. It’s one of the most unique places I have ever been, a distinct, beautiful Eco- system combined with a bit of a seedy underbelly. Ive been coming to this place since the 50’s, and while some things have changed, for the most part it remains relatively the same. Off season, it can be one of the most exquisite beach communities I have ever been to. During the summer months however, when the population swells from several hundred to tens of thousands, it’s a rocking, loud partying hot spot. Each community has it’s own reputation, and it’s important to do your homework and pick your spot carefully.
Approximately 10 miles out to sea off the coast of Long Island, it is accessible to non- residents by ferry or seaplane. This is one of the most charming characteristics of the island. Unless you are one of the few year round residents or contractors with a much coveted permit-there are no cars! Made up of small towns {with names like Ocean Beach, Saltaire, Cherry Grove and Point O’Woods} connected by slim concrete pathways and magical boardwalks, transportation on this 31 mile long and very narrow barrier is by foot, bicycle or wagon.
Each of the ferry basins has a wagon lock up for transferring your possessions to the house.
Should you ever visit, make sure to bring a flashlight. The boardwalks can be treacherous at night. I’ve ended up in the reeds more times than i’d like to admit!
Fire Island is a very seasonal area, houses range from million dollar oceanfront mansions to bungalow-style with generous helpings of bamboo. Some are beachfront, built on the dunes of the Atlantic Ocean, while others are on board or concrete walks, like a miniature city. The lifestyle is very casual and friendly, with Ocean Beach as the main destination for tourists and day trippers. Seasonal visitors to Fire Island can always find a place, no matter what their lifestyle. Year-round residents can find schools, churches, shops and even a school bus service to Long Island via an off-road modified school bus.
The deer are everywhere and they have zero fear of humans, you can easily approach them. Don’t dare to leave a sandwich out on the deck to go inside to get a cold drink. You could come back to find your lovely deli lunch has disappeared. The deer are a huge part of the beauty of this island life, but they are also a very large problem. . The deer have become overpopulated on Fire Island, to the point that the park service is forced to inject 200 deer every year with a vaccine to prevent pregnancy.
Houses are surrounded by fencing in creative ways you can only imagine to keep the deer out.

The environment there is also threatened by Feral Cats of Fire Island. Sounds kind of like a Cirque de Soleil performance. But, I can assure you; they’re not near that pleasant. Other than the fact that the introduction of any non-native species can be devastating to the environment, they are also downright nasty. These cats take shelter under the homes on Fire Island, getting into and even destroying some homes. The males’ scent is almost impossible to get out of your home, and they have been known to completely tear apart cabinetry and furniture. Where they are really remaking havoc is on the Piping Plover population.

I know these endangered species from the Nantucket beaches. A Piping Plover is an incredible bird that nests on open, sandy-cobble beaches with no-to-sparse vegetation – beaches like the Fire Island National Seashore. They face numerous threats from predators, the environment, and human contact, however – what are two of their growing threats? You guessed it: feral cats and the over-population of deer. So…..Don’t feed wild animals!

Fire Island separated from Southampton in a 1931 Nor’easter when Moriches Inlet broke through the land. Efforts by local communities east of Fire Island to protect their beach front with jetties is blamed for erosion of the Fire Island beachfront. Between these major breaks there have been reports over the years of at least six inlets that broke through the island but have since disappeared. I recall a hurricane in the 60’s when the bay met the ocean in many places on the island. Because the island is so narrow {less than 600 ft in some areas}, the future of Fire Island is very precarious.

Fire Island, hmm….the name, curious right?  Could it be from the fiery poison ivy rash many unlucky victims have woken up with after veering off the boardwalk? Some say the island derived its name from fires built on the sea’s edge by Native Americans or by pirates to lure unsuspecting ships into the sandbars. Others believe it could be from the spectacular autumn leaf color which gives the illusion of fire at sea.

Whatever the origin, there’s no arguing with the natural beauty this spot has to offer!

Come back tomorrow to hear about my extreme cottage makeover. 
If you’ve ever been lucky enough to travel here, i’d love to hear about your experience!