Gateway National Recreation Area

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Fort Tilden, a facility of Gateway National Recreation Area, has a great beach. But there's more than just surf out there. As well as the dunes, Fort Tilden features grassy fields and an upland wooded area.

Beach & Dunes: The Breezy Point District is best known for its beautiful Atlantic beach and its dunes. Currents flowing east to west provide us with some of the cleanest water in New York City. These currents also carry sand along the length of Long Island and deposit it on Fort Tilden's beach. Many animals make their home in these sand deposits. The Atlantic surf clam buries itself to escape the waves, and like other mollusks found on the beach, it grows a hard protective shell. You may find the shells these animals produce along the beach, particularly after storms.

Dunes are hills of sand formed by wind blowing over the beach. When the wind is blocked by vegetation or other objects, the sand, occasional seeds, and bits of plants carried by the wind fall to the ground. This process gradually causes a small hill to form. If the conditions are right the seeds begin to grow. Plants such as beach grasses and seaside goldenrod are among the first to take root and the far-reaching web of their roots helps stabilize the otherwise loose grains of sand. By blocking much of the wind, salt, and sand, dunes encourage less salt tolerant plants to grow in areas behind the dunes. Dunes are fragile though, and can be destroyed by your footsteps.

Field: Behind the dunes at Fort Tilden are large open areas. Some are sandy and populated by tall grasses such as the little blue stem. Others like the "Drill Grounds" behind building #1 are mowed to provide green lawns. At first glance these areas appear devoid of wildlife but a close look between the grass dumps reveals a small world filled with living things. There is little cover in either type of field and animals here are careful to protect themselves from predators. Some burrow underground, like field mice or earthworms.

Some use protective coloration, or camouflage. Birds are very well suited to life here because they can fly quickly to safety. You may encounter robins, pheasants, and killdeer in these open areas. Crickets and harmless garter snakes hide beneath old logs or other cover during the day and become active in the evening. Take some time to explore a field.

Upland Area: The upland areas of Fort Tilden are good examples of a young coastal woodland. No longer directly exposed to the drying effects of wind and salt, a greater diversity of plant life grows in this area. Leaves from fast growing trees such as white poplar, cherry, and willow fall to the ground and enrich the otherwise sandy soil. You can find many evergreens in this area, including holly trees and Japanese black pine. The black pine as well as the autumn and Russian olive trees were planted at Fort Tilden by the army to stabilize the soil and camouflage gun positions. Other plants arrived as seeds dropped by the wind or birds. A quiet walk here may reveal squirrels and many woodland birds such as warblers feeding on abundant seeds, berries, and insects.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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