The folks at Fire Island National Seashore are throwing a 50th anniversary party for Labor Day weekend -- and everyone is invited.
Hikes, canoe rides, music and a sand castle contest are part of the entertainment planned for the long weekend to celebrate. The historic Fire Island Lighthouse also joins in the party with special events.
"It's the culmination of our yearlong celebration and we look forward to everyone coming out to join us," says Chris Soller, Fire Island National Seashore superintendent.
Even if you don't want to take a hike or go canoeing, the two east end Fire Island beaches are a great place to play in the sand and catch some last waves before summer's end.
1. WATCH HILL
Accessible by ferry from Patchogue, Watch Hill has boardwalks, a snack bar and a full-service restaurant that has its own tiki bar on the beach. "It's the gateway to the state's only federally designated wilderness area," says Elizabeth Rogers, Fire Island National Seashore park ranger.
It has extensive salt marshes, making it the perfect place for ranger-led canoe tours, Rogers says. A leisurely 3-mile walk along the wilderness breach at sunset allows visitors to witness a fabulous view. On Sunday, visitors can see spectacular sand art on the beach here (as well as Sailors Haven), where artists will be busy building competitive castles.
Watch Hill has its own marina and allows camping ($35 a night with a two-night minimum) until Oct. 12.
INFO Canoe tours: 5-7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 4, for paddle-free sunset tour; regular paddling tours 11 a.m.- 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 5, and Sunday, Sept. 6. All are free but require reservations be made at Watch Hill visitors center beginning at 10 a.m. each day.
Sunset breach hike: 6-8:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 4.
Sand creation contest: 10 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 6, with judging at 2 p.m.
2. SAILORS HAVEN
Adjacent to Sunken Forest, Sailors Haven is another Fire Island beach community where you can take a walk or just set up your lounge chair in the sand. The beach is a short walk along the 11/2-mile boardwalk. Public bathrooms and showers are available.
Take the walk alone or on an organized tour led by a ranger who explains the unique old holly forest that grows on the barrier island. You'll see views of both the ocean and Great South Bay along the way.
At the visitors center, kids can explore the touch table with sea shells and a fish tank. There's a snack bar and gift shop. There's a public marina with water, electricity and a free pump-out station.
INFO Free Sunken Forest tour: 11 a.m.-1:15 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 2-Sunday, Sept. 6; "Enchanted Evening" walk from Sunken Forest to Cherry Grove: 4:40-7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 5; Sand creation contest: 10 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 6, with judging at 2 p.m.
3. FIRE ISLAND LIGHTHOUSE
A new exhibit, "Protecting a Ribbon of Sand: The Creation of Fire Island National Seashore" debuts in the lens building at the Fire Island Lighthouse. The extensively researched work, led by Cathy Barbash of New York City and Philadelphia, and Susan Barbash of Bay Shore, puts on view letters and other documents detailing the fight to keep Robert Moses and government officials from putting a road past Field 5 to points east, in the area we now know as Fire Island.
No need to get on a ferry to reach the lighthouse, which visitors can climb. Park at the east end of Field 5 and walk to the structure.
Two special walks are given this weekend: an evening seaside stroll from the lighthouse to the community of Kismet, 6:15-7:45 p.m. Friday, Sept. 4; and a "Hike Through History," which starts at Field 5 to the lighthouse, from 3-4:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 5.
INFO 631-661-4867 for reservations
Fire Island National Seashore 50th Anniversary celebration
WHEN | WHERE Friday, Sept. 4-Sunday, Sept. 6
INFO 631-687-4772, nps.gov/fiis
GETTING THERE Ferries to Watch Hill leave Patchogue beginning at 8:30 a.m. Fares are $17 round-trip ($11 ages 2-11; 631-475-1665, davisparkferry.com).
Ferries to Sailors Haven leave Sayville beginning at 9:20 a.m. Fares are $16 round-trip ($7.50 younger than 12; 631-589-0810, sayvilleferry.com).