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Sean McGuinness, Supt. Fire Island Nat. Seashore-Holiday Inn

July 25, 2008 @ 12:00 am EDT


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Our speaker this week was Sean McGuinness, Superintendent of the Fire Island National Seashore (FINS). This national park is like no other, in that it encompasses whole independent communities. These communities are part of the mainland townships of Brookhaven and Islip, yet they fall within the boundaries of the national park. FINS works closely with the various communities when they have needs that must be addressed, but FINS takes a cooperative role rather than a primary role. As a result of this close cooperation with the towns and communities it has a very complicated role. 

The Sunken Forest is a part of the park that is accessible to visitors but there are no residential buildings. This very interesting section has a very dense canopy and even on the brightest days it is usually cool and relatively dark on the floor of the forest. There is walkway about 5 feet above the forest floor and visitors are not permitted to get of the walks. The wildlife in this section is very diverse and it is a favorite visiting spot for school outings.

There is also a wilderness area that allows no mechanized activity, even the park service’s own chain saws are not permitted to be used.

The park service maintains this facility on minimum funding about $3.5 million per year. Concessions such as the restaurant at Watch Hill and the snack bar at Sailors Haven do contribute to the park’s revenues by paying a percentage of sales to the park as well as maintaining there own infrastructure.

The island and the adjacent mainland property in the Mastic area was originally owned by William Floyd, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. The Floyd home is in Mastic and it is also part of the FINS and it is open to the public as well.

When Robert Moses was riding high he was arguably the most powerful man in the tri-state area, having a mandate to build the region. He built bridges tunnels, parks and numerous roadways. Some of his accomplishments were admirable, but when he came to Fire Island he wanted to build a highway down the spine of the island. This would have destroyed the communities, the Sunken Forest, and the wilderness area. LIMBA’s founder Paul Townsend objected, and built a coalition that was able to convince the US Congress to create the park. It was one of the few defeats that Moses was ever dealt. The Fire Island we have today is the result of that good leadership.