Henry Ortiz knew the exact place he wanted to take his grandparents when they visited this summer. And it wouldn’t require the 4-year-old to dig into his piggy bank — or travel out of state — to access it.
Quogue Wildlife Refuge is a serene destination with seven miles of uncrowded, walkable trails, and it’s rife with endangered wildlife. An ideal location for strolls and bird watching, the views on the 300-acre nonprofit nature preserve change daily. As a bonus, the Long Island expanse is free to access every day.
Henry’s mother, Jillian Ortiz, has long been aware of the allure of the refuge. In late July, she traveled from her Center Moriches home to the grounds of the local treasure with Henry, her 2-year-old daughter Olivia, and their grandparents.
“We love to come see the animals and we love to walk the trails,” Ortiz said. “It’s a beautiful place to be in the summer.”
As Janet and Julio Ortiz would come to find, their grandson’s pick appeals to nature lovers and curious types all the same.
Flora and fauna are always in season at Quogue Wildlife Refuge.
“It’s beautiful to see nature changing and the animals migrating,” says assistant director Marisa Nelson. “We have a lot of evergreens and pines, so even in the winter, you can enjoy greens.”
The refuge was started in 1934 and is home to a unique variety of greenery including prickly cactus and the “ecologically rare” dwarf pines in the Pine Barrens, she says. According to Nelson, dwarf pines only grow in three places in the world: New Jersey, upstate New York and Long Island.
The grounds also feature several ponds and a butterfly garden that was established in 2004 and contains plants, flowers, bees, hummingbirds and, of course, butterflies.
The newest addition to the grounds, the greenhouse, was built in 2014 and opened to the public last year. African spurred tortoises are among the reptiles that live in the temperature-controlled greenhouse. This tortoise variety can live more than 100 years if cared for properly and grow to weigh more than 100 pounds, groundskeepers say.
COMING TO THE RESCUE
At any given time, the outdoor Wildlife Complex houses animals with permanent injuries. A rescued bald eagle that had been shot and had to have a wing amputated in the late 1980s, has found a permanent home at the refuge, ultimately extending its life.
“A bald eagle in captivity can live up to 50 years old,” Nelson says. “In the wild, they live only five to 10 years.”
Bobcats, falcons, owls and eagles have also taken up residency in the complex in the past 80 years. A barred owl from the Adirondacks has been on the property since March 2014.
As a nonprofit, the Quogue Wildlife Refuge also makes wide-ranging efforts to preserve its own existence. In addition to offering paid tours of the grounds and an annual membership, the facility holds several fundraisers throughout the year. Visitors have the option to sponsor a brick that is part of a trail on the site and to have their names etched into it.
“One of the best things about this place is it’s been great for generations,” Nelson says. “It can be enjoyed by anyone — young, old, rich or poor.”
Quogue Wildlife Refuge
WHEN | WHERE Refuge trails and outdoor wildlife complex open daily sunrise to sunset, nature center open 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday; 3 Old Country Rd., Quogue
INFO Free, donations welcome; 631-653-4771, quoguewildliferefuge.org