With Memorial Day Weekend still two weeks off, more and more facilities at Fire Island National Seashore are reopening after repairs necessitated by last fall's Hurricane Sandy.
By the time the holiday weekend arrives, the National Park Service expects to reopen the remainder of the national seashore facilities that were damaged or closed following Hurricane Sandy. While the William Floyd Estate and the Wilderness Visitor Center reopened back in November, other Fire Island-based park facilities remained closed to the public throughout the winter.
"Most Fire Island visitor services will be restored this month," said Superintendent Christopher Soller. "It still may not be 'business as usual' for a while yet, but our marinas will reopen just one week later than usual, and the beach --while rearranged-- is still there."
Additional clean-up and restoration work is anticipated at the seashore throughout the summer.
Fire Island Concessions, LLC, which operates facilities at Watch Hill and Sailors Haven under a contract with the National Park Service, will reopen both marinas for the season on May 10; the Watch Hill Campground reopens on May 11.
Sayville Ferry Service resumes its service from Sayville to Sailors Haven/Sunken Forest on May 13, and Davis Park Ferry Company begins its service from Patchogue to Watch Hill on May 18, both operating on a limited schedule until June 22, 2013.
Wilderness/backcountry camping begins on May 25, with a new reservation system through recreation.gov available on May 15. Because of the breach at Old Inlet, all access to wilderness camping will be through Watch Hill.
The Fire Island Lighthouse Preservation Society (FILPS), which operates the lighthouse and its museum for the National Park Service, will reopen the Fire Island Lighthouse by Memorial Day weekend, when Robert Moses State Park reopens. However, all pedestrian access to this iconic feature of the park may now involve a three-quarter-mile walk down the beach between Field 5 and the lighthouse, since Hurricane Sandy destroyed most boardwalks at the Fire Island Lighthouse.
"Some damaged boardwalks and stairs to the beach are being repaired by park staff, and we expect to provide safe access to the beach at major park developments by Memorial Day weekend," said Superintendent Soller, "but repair of more extensively damaged boardwalks and trails will be accomplished through storm damage recovery contracts."
Hurricane Sandy destroyed all park-owned boardwalks and a dock providing access to the Fire Island Lighthouse, and portions of the bayside trail between the community of Cherry Grove and Sailors Haven. Both of these trails must be rerouted as well as rebuilt. The primitive facilities at Old Inlet (a small dock, boardwalk to the beach, and vault toilet) were destroyed during the storm, but due to their location within the federally designated Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness, these facilities will not be replaced.
Fire Island National Seashore received storm-related funding to dredge the channels into Watch Hill and Sailors Haven, but that work will not commence until after October 1, 2013.
"Boaters should use extra caution this year," cautioned Superintendent Soller, as the bottom of the Great South Bay has been affected by the storm in some places, and there may still be hidden debris in the water.
Watch Hill and Sailors Haven visitor centers will reopen on May 25, and remain staffed on weekends and holidays through June 23, then Wednesday through Sunday, June 29 through Labor Day. Lifeguarded beaches at Watch Hill and Sailors Haven will be staffed Memorial Day weekend, then coverage resumes on a daily basis between June 29 and September 2, 2013.
There will be no lifeguards at Barrett Beach this year.
"The reduction in staffing at our visitor centers this summer and on our lifeguarded beaches is a reflection of the park's share of sequestration cuts," said the superintendent. "We've also reduced visitor educational programs and other services, maintenance intervals, and resource monitoring."