From Pine Barrens to tidal pools to forest trails, Long Island is home to a very diverse portfolio of ecosystems across both Nassau & Suffolk County. Long Island has numerous parks, preserves and refuges that work to conserve the water & land life that inhabits them. There are parks & preserves that are open every season, and the efforts to protect the land and wildlife throughout never stop.
Check out some of the preserves, activities and exhibits across the island to learn more about our ecosystems and how we can safely enjoy them while keeping them preserved!
Wildlife & Nature Preservation
If there is any preserve that encompasses multiple ecosystems and wildlife habitats in one place, it is Sweetbriar Nature Center in Smithtown. Sweetbriar consists of 54 acres of land which is home to various gardens, woodland, field and wetland habitats all along the Nissequogue River, where hundreds of different species of plants and animals reside. Take self-guided tours around the grounds and see animals, greenhouse gardens and even the tidal marsh up close on the river. The center has a variety of events throughout the year that include educational and wellness sessions for the public to enjoy!
Located on the North Shore of Nassau County in Locust Valley, Bailey Arboretum is situated on the old estate of a renowned horticulturist and philanthropist, Frank Bailey. The Arboretum is a stunning entity that focuses on the connections of people and the natural world through their living collections and interactive educational programs on the wild life and plant life on the North Shore. Learn about the famous Dawn Redwood trees that are scattered throughout the property that were thought to be extinct at one point, and ease your way through the beautiful nature trails for more woodlands knowledge.
Home to a diverse wildlife, the Quogue Wildlife Refuge out in Quogue allows you to explore many different nature habitats of the forests and ponds to the ecologically rare Dwarf Pines in the Pine Barrens from sunrise to sunset. The refuge is home to the Outdoor Wildlife Complex where injured animals are held until recovered, including owls, falcons, foxes and more animals that are native to New York. Stop by the Nature Center as well to learn more from the nature exhibits, the nature library and souvenirs from the gift shop!
Target Rock National Wildlife Refuge in Huntington is a part of the National Wildlife Refuge System network which ensures that there ais land and bodies of water set aside throughout the nation to conserve America’s fish, wildlife and plants. When visiting the preserve, take a hike on the self-guides 1.75 mile nature trail through the woodlands down to the beach where you can observe harbor seals and loons if you are lucky! Throughout the journey, you will also get the observe a variety of birds native to the area especially from the side of the tidal lake.
The Friends of Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge (FOW) is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to the enduring protection, management and appreciation of Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge and its environment. Take a hike at Wertheim National Wildlife Center with miles of beautiful trails available for hiking, birding, photography and simply to relax and enjoy the outdoors. The White Oak trail has short (1.25 mile) or long (2 miles) options with river and woodland views. The Black Tupelo trail is 3.3 miles that offers woodland and views from the east side of Carmans River.
The Holtsville Ecology Center is home to numerous animals you don’t always see everyday from Buffalos to Bobcats to Eagles! Aside from the wildlife, the ecology center has many exhibits that focus on the preservation of plant life while offering garden classes to teach the best ways to grow plants at the right time. You can walk the nature trails, learn about plant and animal life as well as utilize the center’s pool, playground and picnic areas all in a day!
Back in the mid 80s, a group of horseback riders discovered that the scenic nature trails they were used to using in Southampton were being lost to developers, so they created the Southampton Trails Preservation Society. The group has worked closely with the Town of Southampton and other environment organizations to ensure that nature trails out east were being preserved and open for the proper usage. The Society sponsors many events, clean-ups and nature hikes that range from 2-15 miles so that the public can enjoy the trails as much as the group that has worked so hard to preserve them!
Fire Island National Seashore encompasses 26 miles of dynamic ocean and bay shoreline, lush dunes, maritime forests, and 17 residential communities. Their mission is to preserve and protect the natural resources, processes, systems, and values of the units of the National Park System to provide present and future generations with the opportunity to enjoy them. Celebrate Earth Day all year round by participating in their events such as beach clean-ups and collecting microplastics on the ocean beach to create a collage. Learn about the dangers of marine debris and what we can do to keep our beaches clean by the professionals.
Visit some of the old Gold Coast Gatsby Mansions for nature preservation initiatives and education as well! The Sands Point Preserve in Sands Point has acres of hiking trails where you can see a variety of bird species and bees being kept, and enjoy paths down to the Long Island Sound. Check out Planting Fields Arboretum in Oyster Bay not just for the historic mansion, but for the year-round greenhouses that change exhibits throughout the year to educate the public about various plants and flowers!
Aquatic Life Education
When visiting the iconic Jones Beach State Park for the amazing beaches, don’t forget to stop into the new Jones Beach Energy & Nature Center to learn more about the local environment. The center is a one-of-a-kind education experience that encourages visitors to explore the ongoing relations between human life, energy use and conserving the environment we live in.
Located at the West Sayville Boat Basin, CERCOM is housed in a marine science library where they work with state, federal & international networks for ecosystem monitoring. The prime mission of CERCOM is to study the life in the Great South Bay and continue the breeding process for horseshoe crabs off of the bay. Horseshoe crabs are crucial to the medical field since their blood is used in our medicines to detect bacteria, and they even have been used in the development of the COVID vaccine.
Learn even more about New York State’s water ecosystem’s right here on Long Island at the Cold Spring Harbor Fish Hatchery right on the water in Cold Spring Harbor. The hatchery has the largest living collection of New York freshwater reptiles, fishes and amphibians, and eight outdoor ponds along with two aquarium buildings where this all can be studied & enjoyed!
Dive deeper into aquatic adventures on Long Island at the Long Island Aquarium out in Riverhead. Located on the bay, the Aquarium provides numerous exhibits that study life from the rainforests to the deep ocean teaching children and adults alike that it is our responsibility to protect our ecosystems and animals around us. Get even closer to the action with some of the interactive experiences from the Explorer Tour Boat that focuses on the ecological wonders of the waterways, step foot in the salt marshes to hang with horseshoe crabs or even feed the sea lions and the penguins!
After learning more about the local ocean life surrounding Long Island, head over to the Nautical Mile in Freeport and join one of Captain Lou’s charters that explore the nautical wildlife up close. Get tickets to one of their seal watching cruises, or even go whale watching on their whale, dolphin & bird boat tour to see the amazing creatures & their homes right off of the south shore!