When I recall some of my treasured childhood memories, I picture myself either surrounded by trees and mountains or sand dunes and an ocean that stretches out as far as you can see. Parks and beaches were the best playgrounds and I was lucky to have them so close, as well as parents who exposed us to the great wonders of nature and taught us to appreciate and respect the wilderness.
It was a childhood packed with outdoor adventures. When I go back as far as I can remember, I’m at a park near our house feeding ducks and walking through the woods to climb a tree we named Irving. Our family’s summer vacations were camping trips to state and national parks, where we played in lakes, rivers, and oceans and hiked the Appalachian Trail. The rest of our summer days were enjoyed close to home at the beach, splashing in the white water then learning to jump waves and swim out past the breakers.
We went to the beach even during the colder months to walk the boardwalk nature trail. I didn’t know then that the area—the Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness—was protected as part of the Wilderness Act, which was passed 50 years ago today. It was right down the road and also housed a nature center where park rangers would answer questions about the displays on the barrier island ecosystem. What a gift.