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6 reasons to escape to Fire Island this fall

Visitors to Fire Island wait for the ferry

Visitors to Fire Island wait for the ferry back to Bay Shore. Credit: Johnny Milano

Between the thousands of people who pour off of ferries and onto Fire Island between Memorial Day and Labor Day and the winter when the population plunges to die-hard year-round residents lies a sweet spot: September through Halloween.

The beach is quieter, the ferries less crowded but the sun still warm and inviting. "We've been talking about doing things to extend the season a little bit, giving people something to look forward to," says Scott Hirsch, owner of the Island Mermaid restaurant in Ocean Beach, which is adding a Miss (or Mr.) Isle of Fire competition for the first time this September.

Try these options to continue to enjoy the barrier island this fall.

BOAT TO DINNER

Flynn’s in Ocean Bay Park continues its sunset cruise to dinner from Captree State Park for two more evenings — Sept. 17th and 18th. A designated ferry called The Moon Chaser leaves at 7:30 p.m., with a ticket price of $16 per person and a cash bar on board. Dinner is served at the waterside restaurant after the ferry has docked, with live music and the option of a $48 per person all-you-can-eat buffet that includes shrimp, prime rib, clams one lobster per person. (Diners can also opt to order off the regular dinner menu.) Then the boat takes diners back to Captree around 11:30 p.m. Children younger than 12 pay half price for the buffet, but the evening isn’t really family oriented because of the late return, says manager Luke LaPenna. Parking at Captree is free. Flynn’s, at flynnsfireislandny.com, closes for the season on Sept. 19. To make a reservation, call 631-583-5000.

MEET A PAGEANT WINNER

The 55th year of the Miss Fire Island drag queen competition took place on Sept. 11 at the Ice Palace Resort in Cherry Grove — and the rest of the the barrier island is getting on the pageantry bandwagon with the first Miss (or Mr.) Isle of Fire competition at the Island Mermaid in Ocean Beach on Sept. 18.

The Miss (or Mr.) Isle of Fire contest at the waterside Island Mermaid restaurant is for male and female contestants ages 21 to 40 who will compete as their own gender in categories of daywear or evening wear, talent, and judge’s question (all Fire Island related). The host, however, is a drag queen named Ariel Sinclair. Tickets for the event, which runs from 1 to 5 p.m., are $50 each, with a rain date of the 19th. Tickets are limited to 200, so to be sure of a seat, purchase in advance at 631-583-8088 or email GM@islandmermaid.com.

TAKE A MOONLIGHT HIKE

The Fire Island National Seashore has a number of free events planned for September — including a daily ranger-led wilderness walk from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. leaving from the Wilderness Visitor Center adjacent to Smith Point County Park.

Also at the Wilderness Visitor Center: On Sept. 18 at 3 p.m., join seashell collector Linda Springer to scour the shoreline for shells; learn the names of shells and where to find them. Bring any shells you have for identification, and bring your own collection bag.

On Sept. 19 from 4:30 to 7 p.m., there’s a 3.5-mile round-trip moonlight hike along the ocean’s edge (reservations required). Also, on Sept. 19, help the National Park Service and the New York Marine Rescue Center clean up the beach from 6 to 8 p.m. and learn about how debris affects marine life. On Sept. 25 at 9 a.m., learn to fish in the surf. Practice your technique with your own gear or borrow from the seashore’s limited supply. Must be 16; reservations required, 631-281-3010.

Other seashore sponsored events during September: Take a ferry from Patchogue to the Watch Hill Visitor Center for the daily 11:30 a.m. ranger-led hike through a nature trail that takes visitors through a salt marsh, a swale (between the dunes) and maritime forest. On Sept. 12 at 11:30 a.m., join a ranger to draw a seine net through the shallows of the Great South Bay and identify creatures captured; 631-597-6455. Take a ferry from Sayville to Sailors Haven to join the daily 11:30 a.m. ranger-led hike to explore the Sunken Forest; 631-597-6183. More events are being planned for October.

CLIMB 182 STEPS

The view of the barrier island is expansive from the top of the Fire Island Lighthouse. The museum is open year-round, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with the tower open until 4:30 p.m. Don your required mask and climb the tower’s 182 steps, then explore the interactive museum and see the enormous light in the adjacent lens building. Climbing costs $10 per adult and $5 per child, with a 42-inch height requirement.

The pandemic has nixed several of the annual fall special events, but there is a free lecture in the lens building on Sept. 26 featuring the author of "The True Story of George Washington’s Long Island Spy Ring" and on Oct. 9 it’s the 2nd annual Light-Haus Keepers’ Craft Tasting, with a dozen microbreweries setting up booths. Watch the lighthouse website for pricing and tickets for the latter event.

The lighthouse is about a 15-minute, ¾-mile walk from Field 5 of Robert Moses State Park; walk along a boardwalk or along the beach (though be aware that there may still be clothing-optional sunbathers on the beach in front of the lighthouse, even in the off season); 631-583-5901; fireislandlighthouse.com.

ENJOY LIVE MUSIC

The Watch Hill Marina has live acoustic music under a tent every weekend afternoon through Columbus Day. Food trucks offer sustenance and beverages, including fozen drinks. If it's chilly, the marina has propane heaters, says owner/operator Doug Biviano. Take the ferry from Patchogue and spend an afternoon relaxing by the boat slips and strolling by the ocean. The last ferry from Watch Hill to the mainland departs at 4:15 p.m.; 631-597-6073, lovefins.com.

CELEBRATE OCTOBERFEST, HALLOWEEN

Continue walking another 20 minutes or so past the Fire Island Lighthouse to the community of Kismet, where the new-this-summer Dive Kismet restaurant will be open weekends only. Fridays will be dinner only, from 4 to 9 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays noon to 9. (Rainy weather may cause the restaurant to close, says general manager Taylor Figgiani.) On Oct. 2, the restaurant will host Octoberfest in the courtyard, with all-you-can-eat traditional German food and beer for $85 per person, with $10 of that going to the Kismet Fire Department. On Oct. 30, the restaurant will host a Halloween party with raffles and prizes; timing will depend on that weekend’s ferry schedule, Figgiani says. Price has yet to be determined.

Right next door is the more senior Kismet Inn, family run since 1925. The kitchen is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily through Oct. 3, then Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Nov. 7. "From the Parking Field 5 to the door of the Kismet Inn is exactly a mile and a quarter," says co-owner/manager Ashley Cole. 631-583-7400, divekismet.com; 631-583-5592, thekismetinn.swamponline.com.

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