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Fire Island Beach to Breach Hike explores cut made by Sandy

Hugo Croatto of West Hempstead scans for wildlife

Hugo Croatto of West Hempstead scans for wildlife on a Beach to Breach Hike on Fire Island. Photo Credit: Yvonne Albinowski

The breach in the Fire Island National Seashore beach is still open, and it’s drawing a crowd of onlookers on this sunny Friday morning.

About 75 people have taken a National Park Service-sponsored hike to see the new inlet, or breach, blasted by superstorm Sandy through the seashore’s Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness Area.

In four years the breach has continued to morph as the sands shift.

“The thing with a barrier island is that everything is constantly changing,” Steve Nemecek, a park ranger who is leading the hike, tells the crowd gathering outside the wilderness center.

And that’s part of the attraction for some hikers, who return often.

“I do this breach hike every couple of months to see the changes,” says Anne Lies of Brookhaven.

A FAMILY ATTRACTION

Long Islanders of all ages are making the 3-mile round trip, which begins on a narrow boardwalk and finishes on the Atlantic Ocean beach.

“I came to take pictures and relax,” says Rick Simon, 65, of Roslyn, a public school history teacher.

“I thought it would be great to get out and get exercise on Fire Island,” says Peter Eich, 37, of Sayville, walking with his sister, Emily, and her son, Ty, 5. “Ty will tell his teacher about the hike when he gets back to school,” Peter Eich says.

The hike ends where the land ends. The hikers are surrounded by water on three sides: the Atlantic to the south, Great South Bay to the north, and the ever-changing, wide-as-a-river breach straight ahead. The other part of the wilderness area is visible across the rushing water.

“It’s amazing. It’s, like, 100 feet wide,” Josh Brown, 22, a solar energy consultant from Massapequa, says of the breach as the outgoing tide courses through it.

NATURAL HISTORY

Sandy, which made landfall on Oct. 29, 2012, left three gaps in Fire Island, Nemecek says. Two were closed because they affected residential areas, but the third breach was left open because it runs through the federally protected wilderness area. The Park Service is preparing an environmental-impact statement to evaluate alternatives for managing the breach. Members of the public who want to weigh in can comment at parkplanning.nps.gov

Initial calls to close the breach immediately have been tempered by the belief that it’s good for the environment.

“It’s cleaning out the bay; the fishing has been great,” Nemecek says. Seahorses have returned to local waters. Snowy owls have also been seen here.

An even rarer bird is spotted by Pat Frost, 66, a hiker from Westhampton Beach. “There’s an eagle over there on the sandbar,” she tells another visitor. Frost uses her camera’s telephoto lens to get a closer look at the American bald eagle and take a picture. She plans to post the photo on a Long Island wildlife Facebook page.

After an hour, the crowd begins to wander back to the parking lot, having witnessed a natural wonder that may not last long.

The Fire Island breach occurred at a point on the map marked Old Inlet, thus named because it was the site of a previous inlet that closed in the early 19th century, Nemecek says. He says the Park Service believes this new breach also will close naturally.

Beach to Breach Hike

WHEN | WHERE 10 a.m. Sunday, Jan 1, from Fire Island National Seashore Wilderness Visitor Center. Three-mile round trip hike, dress for walking on sand, and bring a snack, drinking water and binoculars.

INFO 631-687-4780 (weekdays), 631-281-3010 (weekends),

nps.gov

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