A contingent of Troop 75 Scouts and family members enjoyed the last weekend of June – and the first after school let out – at our annual beach campout. This year, however, instead of heading for one of our town beaches along the Long Island Sound, we were fortunate to secure the group camping area at Watch Hill – part of the Fire Island National Seashore, which is operated by the National Park Service. Fire Island is a fragile barrier island that protects Long Island from the Atlantic Ocean. A boardwalk leads to the camping area, which is nestled in the high dunes just a few yards from the beach.
Watch Hill is only reachable by boat. On Friday afternoon and evening, a couple of groups from Troop 75 took a small ferry out of Patchogue that sailed for Watch Hill across the Great South Bay that separates Long Island and Fire Island. Others arrived on Saturday by the same route. The weather was fabulous, and everyone was excited to be ushering in the summer this way.
Wildlife was abundant. There were plenty of mosquitoes, but they became less of a problem throughout the weekend. We were prepared with insect repellant and spent a lot of time on the beach where the ocean breezes kept the bugs at bay. Toads came out in force during the evenings, and a number of deer were spotted grazing lazily in the thick morning fog along the dunes. We also saw many types of birds, including the endangered piping plover. Horseshoe crabs frequent the area as well, and during the evenings we observed some sort of insects hopping madly about after each wave receded – vanishing almost instantly into the wet sand. Perhaps most exciting of all were the dolphins and basking sharks that were spotted several hundred feet from where we were swimming. The veteran lifeguards assured us that they pose no threat to bathers and shared their high-powered binoculars to those wanting a better look. It was difficult at first to distinguish them, but their different tails give them away.
Our beach campout is traditionally a fairly laid back event, a nice closer to the regular Scouting season and a break from the program-rich outdoor activities that characterize the rest of the year. We cooked as a group, and the food was more than ample. Most of the weekend was spent playing, relaxing, eating, and otherwise enjoying this special place. The beach itself is very broad and sandy – the kind you see on postcards from more tropical places, but without palm trees. Body surfing, boogie boarding, and digging in the sand kept the Scouts occupied for many hours. However, we did hike a mile or so down the beach on Friday evening, returning in total darkness. The Fire Island National Seashore runs some seven miles to the east of Watch Hill, so once you’re away from the campground and marina area, it seems like an endless stretch of pristine seashore. Few of us, if any, had ever hiked an ocean beach at night before. Too bad it was overcast. On Saturday evening we took in a ranger-led program about crabs and other creatures that are native to the area, which was better suited to a younger audience. Afterward, from atop the high dunes we enjoyed a stunning view of the lights of Long Island across the Great South Bay. And, we were treated to a couple of large pre-Fourth of July fireworks shows in the distance. What a vantage point!
We returned to Long Island late Sunday morning, except for one family who wanted to spend a little more time at this wonderful place. Watch Hill is really quite close to home, but is seemingly so distant. We were fortunate to have had the opportunity to camp here because Watch Hill can accommodate only one camping group at a time, and the site can be difficult to book. I suspect that most of left feeling that we had discovered someplace special and different, and that we’d like to come back again.
- by Mr. Mark Lowen, Scoutmaster
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