Planning for the Fire Island National Seashore and the Otis Pike Wilderness Area By Joe Zysman


The Otis Pike Wilderness Area in the Fire Island National Seashore (FINS) contains a rich variety of flora and fauna, a large expanse of salt marsh, and the highest ocean fronting dunes on the Atlantic Coast. It is the only Federal Wilderness Area in New York State and the smallest managed by the Park Service. Remarkably, virtually the entire area is less than 60 miles from Times Square. The National Park Service has recently begun the process of revising its General Management Plan (GMP) for the Seashore. Part of the process will include planning for the Wilderness Area. The period for public scoping comments is open until January 12, 2007, and we are urging members to send comments based on some of the following issues and concerns:


Over the years, FINS has been gradually removing evidence of previous human activity in the area, but scattered minor objects— building debris, utility markers, etc.— still remain. FINS should give priority to removing as many of these as possible.


Send your comments to: Fire Island National Seashore, 120 Laurel St. Patchogue, NY 11772 Att: Planning Team, or by e-mail and send copies to: Senator Charles Schumer 145 Pinelawn Road, Melville, NY 11747 fax: (631) 753-0997 Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton 155 Pinelawn Road, Melville, NY 11747, fax: (631) 249-2847 If you live in his district: Congressman Tim Bishop 3680 Route 112 Coram, NY 11727, fax: (631) 696-4520


Sunken Forest on Fire Island


I first fell in love with Fire Island shortly after I graduated from High School when one of my high school teachers took me over to the Sunken Forest. I probably walked along the trail with my mouth hanging open--it was such an incredible place. One thing that really stuck out for me was the great differences in the bark of the trees in there: the smooth light brown Hollies, the smooth grey-with-black-streaks of the thin and crooked Shadbushes, and the deeply furrowed rich brown of the Sassafras. Oh, I knew it wasn't a forest that was truly sunken, but that first descent where the boardwalk dipped off the top of the secondary dune down into the cool, shade of the forest was a very magical experience. This is Long Island's best--and oldest--maritime forest nestled behind the second row of dunes, doubly protected from the salt spray that prunes the tops of the trees to a nearly flat ocean of green.


Later, I spent more time there and read more about it. I saw Ovenbirds and Towhees hopping along the ground during nesting season, enjoyed the pink Marsh Mallows blooming along the edges of the bogs or salt marsh, and stopped to rest in the quiet shade of the forest.


Evidence points to the Sunken Forest area of Fire Island as having been relatively stable for 200-300 years--an unusual situation for a barrier beach. Some of the Holly trees may be 150 years old! There is an irony to its formation and shape: the salt spray that prevents the trees from surpassing the height of the secondary dune is also the major source of nutrients for this ecosystem!


In most mainland forests, the major source of nutrients like magnesium and potassium is the weathering of the rocks or soil beneath the roots. The quartz sands of our beaches are poor in these nutrients, yet they are found in ocean water. The spray off the ocean is blown inland. On exposed leaves, it desiccates and kills, pruning the vegetation and keeping it from exceeding the height of the protective dunes. Yet some of this also washes off in rain and gets to the soil to be used as nutrients by the plants growing there. The Sunken Forest exists because this part of Fire Island has not only the ocean-front primary dune, but also a well developed and lengthy secondary dune affording double protection.


Come explore this magical place. See our outing on September 8 or go yourself. Ferry information can be found at: or check the Fire Island National Seashore website: Laurie Farber, former Conservation Chair

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