Growing up on Long Island I have always felt a connection to my hometown, but Fire Island was a foreign land. While its sandy beaches and ocean waves were astonishing; it was just another beach to enjoy during the summer. I spent many summers camping on the east end of Fire Island, at Smith Point County Park, but never knew it was on Fire Island. At first glance, Fire Island visitors seem to be split between those who are regulars, visiting the seashore multiple times each summer, and those who have only been here once or twice, usually during a school field trip. I, along with many other Long Islanders, fall into an inconspicuous third group of individuals though. The latter group has been visiting Fire Island National Seashore their whole life but hasn’t even realized it. When asked if they have previously visited Fire Island they initially say no. After utilizing my improved facilitate dialogue techniques I learn that they have indeed been to many sites across Fire Island but just never knew! My goal is to enlighten everyone to the knowledge I just recently learned myself.
That being said, there are many who have already made their connection with this dynamic barrier island. On multiple occasions I have met the families of past lighthouse keepers or individuals who have strong memories of growing up within one of Fire Island’s seventeen communities. I was never much of a history buff, but having the opportunity to work with the National Park Service and Fire Island National Seashore has really been an eye-opener for me. In sitting with a volunteer today he stated, “I learn something new every time I go over there.” This is the simplest, yet most prolific, statement I have heard in a while. There is so much history to Fire Island National Seashore that you can’t help but submerge yourself in it. In the past three months, I have developed a deeper respect by living and working within Fire Island. Gaining this mindset has enabled me to understand and appreciate the history of the island and everything it has overcome.
Fire Island has been a magnet for controversial issues in the past and continues to be. For example, when Robert Moses fought to construct a parkway through Fire Island, the community came together and pushed for Fire Island to become a National Seashore. There was an appreciation for the natural environment and a desire to preserve it. For me, it proves that there are so many people who care deeply about Fire Island. The National Park Service likes to emphasize to that each park belongs to its guests and should be appreciated. By having people debate the future of Fire Island National Seashore, it verifies the connection between people and park. The community has a stake in the matter and wants what they feel is best for the seashore. Without this connection, who knows what Fire Island would have looked like today. In preparing for the National Park Service’s centennial celebration, this connection and appreciation for the natural world needs to be continued. Connecting people to their parks is vital is preserving what we, as a society, care about. It is in these moments that I refer back to the following quote by John F. Kennedy:
“One person can make a difference and everyone should try.”