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Enclosed in a semicircle of wooded hills nearly 200 feet high, the marsh at Wading River lies like an emerald along an otherwise unbroken coast of high bluffs on Long Island’s north shore. Although there are many salt marshes on the Island’s northern shore, they are rare along the 53-mile expanse between Port Jefferson and Orient Point. The preserve is a wonderful place to explore the world of the salt marsh, where plants and animals must be able to survive in the extremes presented by tide, salt and sun.
Native Americans once harvested the abundant quahogs and periwinkles in Wading River Marsh’s shellfish flats. Wading River is believed to have been inspired by the Indian name Pauquaconsuk, meaning "the river where we wade for thick, round-shelled clams." Archaeological digs have found evidence of hunting and shellfishing by Native Americans as early as 3,500 BC.
The Nature Conservancy set about protecting the area in 1968. Dorothy C. Kempf donated 75 acres between 1971 and 1980. Most of the remaining acreage was donated by 12 other individuals.
In addition to being ideal for birdwatching, Wading River Marsh is a peaceful place to hike and explore the fascinating salt marsh community. Two marked trails offer close-up views of this remarkable wetland. The west trail passes through a coniferous forest often filled with the chatter of chickadees and titmice, and skirts a brackish pond. The pond’s secluded waters, as well as the marsh as a whole, provide an important refuge for migrating waterfowl. The north trail loops around and through a mostly hardwood forest and affords panoramic views of the greater marsh complex. Trails at the preserve are open for hiking and observing nature from dawn to dusk.
If you live locally and are interested in becoming a Preserve Monitor or Steward, please email Derek Rogers, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Although at first glance they may appear flat and even monotonous, salt marshes are some of the most productive places on the planet—an acre of these coastal wetlands far surpasses the productivity of an acre of agricultural land. Look closely and you’ll discover an array of color and form. Most of Wading River Marsh is “high marsh” with meadows of salt hay and spike grass, as well as a stunted form of salt marsh cordgrass. While the latter species is more common in younger marshes that are more subject to daily tidal flooding, the abundance of whorled, matted salt hay here is evidence that this is an older marsh. Areas covered by the pale green spike grass tend to be wetter and more saline. Saltier still are the oval patches with vegetation that differs from the grasses. These are “salt pans,” colonized by glasswort and other plants that are able to survive in the extremely saline soil. In autumn, glasswort lights up the marsh as it turns bright red.
In addition to shellfish, crabs, snails, fish, and small mammals, you may see a clapper rail capturing a fiddler crab before it can reach the safety of its burrow, or an osprey diving to catch large fish. In fact, the marsh is a great place to watch birds year round, especially shorebirds and waterfowl. One hundred different bird species have been spotted in the preserve.
This 104-acre preserve is located in Wading River, Long Island.