If a trip to Yellowstone or Yosemite seems a stonebridge too far this summer, you can get a dose of adventure much closer to home with a daytrip.
Long Island boasts its own wealth of federally-protected lands — more than 25,000 acres in all, much of it open to the public and teeming with wildlife, outdoor adventure and Instagrammable wonders.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages 6,500-acres in the Long Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which includes refuges open to the public in Oyster Bay, Shirley and Noyack. The National Park Service operates the 20,000-acre Fire Island National Seashore, one of 10 national seashores in the nation.
Here are five ways to experience “America the Beautiful” outdoors under our own spacious skies.
WATCH OSPREYS FEED THEIR YOUNG
Ospreys have made a soaring comeback on Long Island since their near decimation in the 1960s. Currently, there are 11 osprey nests atop aeries in the island’s national wildlife refuges, according to Michelle Potter, the complex’s project leader. The birds, which have up to a 5-foot wingspread and are also known as fish hawks, make spectacular dives feet first into the water to catch fish with their talons to feed chicks, which “are usually in the nest for about eight weeks after they hatch,” Potter said. Wertheim is also home to a pair of American Bald Eagles and their two eaglets, soon to get flying lessons.
SEE A NATURAL WONDER
Yellowstone has Old Faithful and Yosemite has its falls, but Long Island brags of a much newer natural phenomenon. The Fire Island Breach, carved through the barrier island by 2012’s mighty superstorm Sandy, shows the awesome power of nature to remake the landscape (or in this case, seascape). To get there, park at Smith Point County Park and walk east from the (currently closed) Fire Island Wilderness Visitor Center. Park Rangers are available to answer your questions, Wednesdays through Sundays. Be forewarned — the ocean-to-bay panorama can take your breath away.
PADDLE WITH NATURE
Social distancing flows naturally on the Carmans River, which runs through 2,700-acre Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge in Shirley. The 10-mile- long river is so wide “that people are barely running into each other” when they rent and launch at the riverside dock at Carmans River Canoe & Kayak, says Paul Walter, assistant manager. Also try: the 3,209-acre Oyster Bay National Wildlife Refuge, the largest refuge in the complex, a mix of bay, salt marsh and freshwater wetlands accessible only by boat, canoe and kayak. Cast a line for a bluefish or photograph wildlife like harbor seals, greater scaup and other waterfowl. For boat launch information contact the Town of Oyster Bay at 516-624-6202.
GO OFF THE GRID IN THE HAMPTONS
Elizabeth A. Morton National Wildlife Refuge in Noyack is renowned for its trail populated with friendly, famished chickadees, which fly to visitors’ outstretched hands to eat seeds. (Be sure to clean up any dropped seeds, which attract rodents.) Parts of the refuge are currently closed to protect nesting shorebirds. But what’s accessible should delight nature-loving Instagrammers: high bluffs, scenic bay overlooks and a sleepy lagoon right out of Gilligan’s Island.
CAMP ON THE NATIONAL SEASHORE
You can really get away from it all on a camping expedition at the 1,380-acre Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness, the only federally designated wilderness in New York State. Back country camping is still available this summer right on the ocean beach and in the back dunes, so you can snooze in utter solitude under a starry night, with the waves for a lullaby. To get there take the Davis Park Ferry to Watch Hill, then hike to your back country campsite. Advance reservations and camping permits ($25) are required, and are available at recreation.gov.