Long Island is home to the largest public recreational beach in the world, Jones Beach State Park. Settled in 1692 originally by a pirate hoping to start a new and semi-respectable life, the 2,413 acres of double-sided waterfront property eventually became the famous state park where millions of golfers, swimmers, surfers, boaters, birders and (have I left anyone out?) beachcombers enjoy themselves in the sun, sand and sea year after year since 1929, when it officially became part of the New York State Parks System. But that's the summer crowd. What is Jones Beach like in the winter?
For bird watchers, naturalists and other folks who seek near solitude and the undisturbed natural world of the shoreline, Jones Beach in winter is a gem. Great stretches of sand dunes and scrub pines fringe the inner edges of the 6.5 miles of ocean beachfront and hundreds of species of flora live on the barrier islands from the bay to the ocean. In winter, the territorial terns that swoop and dart at sunbathers in the summer, defending their state-protected nesting grounds, have migrated to the Bahamas or South America. Left are the waterfowl, raptors and passerines(in birding speak) otherwise known as ducks, hawks and songbirds.
Jones Beach is one long barrier island with smaller islands surrounding it making up the state park. On one of these islands is the Teddy Roosevelt Nature Center. Open year round for events and activities for children and adults, winter activities include environmental walks along Jones Beach’s famous boardwalk, seal walks to observe up to four different species of seals (I could only distinguish two) and nature center interactive exhibits like the butterfly garden or an archeological dig for whalebones in the sand.
On the ocean side at the West End of the park there is a jetty for surf fishing for striped bass, flounder, porgy, and blue crab. Just bring your equipment and have at it. The ocean front is one of my favorite wintering picnic grounds. On some days it seems there is no one around for miles, except you, the birds and the sea. Choose your spot in the sand with a warm blanket or set up a table and tent for an instant beachfront vacation. Bring a lunch since all park restaurants are closed for the season by September.
Less than 30 miles from New York City, Jones Beach in winter is a relaxing day trip from the bustle of Manhattan where you can enjoy a naturalist’s winter paradise.