Fire Island's Natural Neighborhoods

An island in the ocean – with its mystique enhanced by being a bit isolated – offers essential treasures to those who seek peaceful freedom of mind.

Fire Island’s barrier beach island – 32 miles long, bordering the south of Great South Bay — has millions of people living within 50 miles of it, yet is largely unknown to most.

Fire Island – has 17 “neighborhoods”– which are small, and individualistic hamlet-communities of only 4,000 homes, scattered like rare beach glass treasures along that natural sand stretch, each hamlet averaging less than 1% of total Fire Island’s space. 

All the rest of this special island – more than 80% consists of open beaches, and day-visitor parks. This includes our largest park – the Fire Island National Seashore. This particular park even includes an eight-mile Wilderness natural area that’s larger in area than all the hamlets combined. The Seashore also offers a unique “Sunken Forest,” a historic lighthouse, along with a number of centuries-old legends.  Nice balance.

Fire Island has many moods. On a sunny day one can spy out into the Atlantic for many miles and inspire some day dreaming, envisioning the life teeming just below the surface. There can be stormy days when the wind-chopped water and somber sky can scour a scare or two up. Thunder storms over the ocean or bay can knife down electric bolts and startle even the worldly whales and tough minded seagulls. Each day or night is never exactly the same — one day quietude and on the next spirited fascination.

I guess, even with all its natural beauty, the island is hidden in isolation. That’s why this Isle of Fire remains somewhat unknown. If you’re not day-visiting a park, then you’d have to ferry over to your rental lodging, all of which are pretty close to nature as well.

Nature appreciation needs civilization nearby

Oceans alone, which cover over 70% of our planet, are mysterious wildernesses to begin with. Then, being an island open to the sky, without heavy foliage, massive buildings or raucous highways, there’s no hindrance to a clear view at night out to the greatest wilderness of all – the starry universe full of trillions upon trillions of stars that are all basically back in time.

It’s a universe that’s “ungraspable” and can inspire an observer to stare and ponder. It’s a natural stimulus to the mind.

As Long Islander Herman Melville put it, “it is this image of the ungraspable phantom of life, and this is the key to all.”

We can attempt to grasp meanings, and that is the beauty of trying, especially at night from a vantage point within those 17 hamlets — the Fire Island communities. Have you ever noticed – after a few days following a full moon – when it is pitch black and the Milky Way is out over the Atlantic, and surrounded by our more neighborly stars less light years away, that when the moon rises out of the ocean – an hour later every night – that it often triggers inner mental queries? The triggers are working when on Fire Island.

If we didn’t have a number of homes on Fire Island where the hamlets were neighbored by total or near- wilderness, then who would ever appreciate the winders of the natural world? We should be happy that our communities stay as scattered neighbors.

Every one of these hamlet communities has a slightly different reality, albeit they might all seem to have a common love for the island’s overall natural-style of living. Some have small homes that have been carefully styled. Others have homes that express true personalities, and might be surrounded by driftwood and indigenous foliage. These might be called “beachy.” A few homes are anchored in elegant magnificence, but even here these vantage-views into the overall wilderness do not seem out of place. 

The mesh of hamlet communities working in harmony

Those who live on Fire Island all year long or seasonably, mostly get there by a ferry boat ride. Also don’t expect taxi service when they arrive across the Great South Bay. There are no paved roads on this island, albeit a dew essential service vehicles crunch through the sand. This fact alone helps preserve the natural “beachy” feelings that surround residents and visitors alike.

When you arrive in a community, there’s not a heavy presence of organized government or pressure to conform. On the other hand, island people are generally friendly and commonly fling off a smile at passers by. Most communities are governed by volunteer homeowners associations that keep in touch with the community pulse. Then there’s another level of volunteerism in an association of homeowner associations. Volunteerism of those who love the island’s rhythms – is what it is all about.

Communities in harmony with wilderness

Fifty years ago, the 17 communities that still exist today were a bit smaller than today. Then by the late 50’s there was an early awakening to the uniqueness of the island, and more continuing development.

In March 1962 a monster slow-moving nor’easter crawled along the coastline, ripping out pieces of some communities and causing some developers to start promoting a four-lane highway-dike down the island, with heavy development potential. Luckily, those few thousand who lived on the island, and their friends got together and focused on getting most of the island designated a National Seashore by Congress in 1964. The threat of over-development was thwarted then.

It’s now a park monument as to what citizens can do when they loved a unique and eternal spot on this planet.

Those that now live on Fire Island will continue on the heritage of caring enough to protect the natural wild-beach feeling. This feeling surrounds the neighborhood-communities that were allowed to cohabitate the island with the terns, piping plovers, ducks, white-tailed deer and other wildlife.

This is the natural essence of Fire Island. Grasp at it.

Bob can be reached at  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  

Copyright (c) Robert H. Spencer