Fire Island National Seashore Boardwalk Renovations to Rectify the Runway Planned

Debris and damage to the boardwalks at Watch Hill. This photo was taken by Ted Steffensen shortly after January 10, 2024 when significant flooding and over-wash occurred.
Debris and damage to the boardwalks at Watch Hill. This photo was taken by Ted Steffensen shortly after January 10, 2024 when significant flooding and over-wash occurred.

Fire Island National Seashore boardwalk renovations are underway as the South Shore of Long Island has seen a myriad of severe storms and persistent erosion over a devastating fall and winter that have pounded many walkways, boardwalks and beach access overpasses on Fire Island.

Storm damages have forced many FINS locations to close temporarily. Sunken Forest, Watch Hill, and Carrington tract beaches have had intermittent closings since January. Many frequented boardwalks have been engrossed in debris and sand, with some hinting at structural concerns, making them hazardous and leaving patrons concerned about the state of their summertime escape with the warmer months fast approaching.

Many boardwalks were in a similar condition after the disturbance of Hurricane Sandy.

“The boardwalks have been designed and constructed to incorporate resiliency through future storms and the [the National Park Service (NPS)] is confident that the boardwalks will withstand future storms and provide reliable circulation routes through the design life of 20-25 years,” the National Department of Interior wrote in an announcement published on October 23, 2015.

However, just eight years later, the same problem has returned.

This year, on March 14, The NPS shared a similar news release, detailing their plans for amending the current issues. The release described that repairs will occur in four phases, with efforts to complete the first two by June. These plans are also showcased through AI-generated images for clarification. Phase one of repairs to beach access stairs at Carrington and Watch Hill tracts. The second phase will focus on repairs to sections of the Sunken Forest boardwalk. Phase three will be a partial repair to the damaged 1,500 linear feet of boardwalk at the Watch Hill Nature Trail, with 600 linear feet will be completed this spring/summer and the remaining 900 linear feet to be completed in 2025. Finally, phase four will focus on Talisman/Barrett Beach boardwalk removal due to damage in September unrelated to storm events.

“Fire Island– people don’t realize the treasure that we have over there,” shared Ted Steffensen, a Suffolk County Golf Course Superintendent.

The South Shore has a vaguely different appearance yearly, as various factors contribute to the shift of its natural state. Growing up on the South Shore, Steffensen has gained a vast knowledge of the condition of the beaches through frequent visits to Fire Island. The local beachgoer has experienced a time when climate change’s effects weren’t so detrimental.

“Watch Hill was the one that was really destroyed,” Steffensen shared. “You got to remember all those boardwalks were originally wood boardwalks and instead of tearing them down or redoing them, they took that plastic wood and went over the top with them, and all that plastic wood pretty much got peeled off, and left a lot of other bare areas.”

Even in the dead of winter, Steffensen spends most of his time taking his boat across the Great South Bay, while capturing photographs of Fire Island, many which he generously contributes to this publication. Through his images, the damage seen is evident.
According to the National Park Service, all repairs should be completed by 2025, with hopes to create safer environments for patrons.

“The park has chosen this phased approach to maximize the use of our limited staffing to ensure safe working conditions and to insure that final products are of good quality for our visitors enjoyment and safety” said FINS Superintendent Alexcy Romero.

The park advises visitors to stay out of closed areas. Other access areas to the beach and bay are open and accessible to the public. Please visit our website for updated closures.

Map illustrating the Fire Island National Seashore boardwalk renovations at Watch Hill, courtesy National Park Service/ FINS.