Ferry passengers arrive on Fire Island. (May 22, 2009)

Ferry passengers arrive on Fire Island. (May 22, 2009) Credit: Kirsten Luce

Fire Island National Seashore officials plan to unveil a gleaming new $4.6-million ferry terminal Sunday in Patchogue, culminating years of work to replace what was essentially a glorified ticket counter with a more suitable gateway to the splendors of Fire Island.

More than twice the size of the ramshackle wooden building it replaced, the new facility includes a sunlit public meeting room and a broad deck where passengers bound for Watch Hill can watch the ferries approach. It's hard to know which feature veteran visitors will appreciate more: the indoor waiting area or the spacious bathrooms.

"It's quite a change," park Superintendent Chris Soller said. "If you had come a year ago and it was pouring down rain, you'd basically be standing outside . . . It's a much friendlier environment for anyone who is coming and waiting."

The terminal was designed to echo the workshop of famed 19th century local boat builder Gil Smith, who had a building on property now owned by the parks service. Built of pale olive cement board to resist mold, the structure sits higher than the old terminal to better cope with storm surge and coastal flooding. Solar panels atop the sloping roof will help power the building, which has a geothermal heating and cooling system.

"My focus was to make this thing as energy efficient and green as possible," said Dave Hensen, president of the Friends of Fire Island National Seashore.

Outside, a large map of Fire Island displays points of interest in and around the six-mile stretch of seashore maintained by the National Park Service. The ferry here carries passengers to Watch Hill, where there are beaches, a marina, campgrounds and nature trails.

Inside, Soller said the waiting area will have displays, transit brochures and information about other areas of the park. Rangers will be on hand during the summer to answer questions.

The original plan hatched more than a decade ago called for a full-fledged visitor center and an additional building on site to house the parks administration. But funding floundered in the 2000s, and plans got scaled back.

Now parks and village officials hope the new terminal will boost visitor ship and local commerce. "It's an investment in the community," Soller said.

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