Wildlife sanctuary at Big Woods on Long Island
Big Woods Wildlife sanctuary at Big Woods on Long Island © © A. Graziano Photography

Places We Protect

Big Woods Preserve

New York

This preserve is known for its natural beauty and ecological significance.

In addition to the mature forest of oaks, American beech, and white pine for which Big Woods is named, the preserve includes freshwater wetlands, beaches, and tidal marshlands. Located in North Sea, just south of Robins Island, Big Woods is part of one of the most extensive salt marsh-tidal creek systems remaining in the Peconic estuary. The area has long been recognized for its natural beauty and ecological significance, as well as its importance to the water quality of the Great Peconic Bay.

In 1995, as a result of an ongoing dialogue with the owners of the largest privately owned property in the area, The Nature Conservancy, in partnership with Southampton Town, acquired the 87 acres comprising the Big Woods Preserve. This added to 333 acres owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Peconic Land Trust, and the Conservancy in our Wolf Swamp and Scallop Pond Preserves.

Big Woods is a wonderful place for an adventure in nature. You can explore a rare maritime beech forest and one of eastern Long Island’s most undisturbed coastal wetlands. The loop trail is well marked, although intersecting trails are not as easy to follow. The trails are open for hiking and observing nature from dawn to dusk.

The sign at the entrance describes the preserve as the Marguerite Crabbe Greef Wildlife Sanctuary, in honor of a woman whose family made the preserve possible. The loop trail through the preserve traverses an upland beech forest, smaller groves of white pine, and red maple and tupelo wetland.

Two short sections of boardwalk enable you to get a close-up look at the moisture-loving plants, including highbush blueberry, swamp azalea, winterberry holly, sweet pepperbush, cinnamon fern, and sedges.

The diverse wetland habitats in this spectacular sanctuary attract a high concentration of waterfowl, including black duck. The federally endangered piping plover, New York State endangered least tern, and New York State rare common tern nest on the beaches. The wetlands and inlets are important feeding and nursery areas for shellfish and finfish, as well as endangered Kemps Ridley sea turtles.

Comprised of scarlet, white, and black oaks, American beech, and scattered white pines, Big Woods includes a high-quality example of a very rare assemblage of plants and animals called a maritime beech forest. The shrub layer includes huckleberry, blueberry, arrowwood, and mountain laurel, and where land meets water, an exemplary salt marsh is fringed by the tupelos and red maples. The small stands of white pine scattered throughout the preserve include the tallest trees in the area. Rare plants such as sea pink, salt marsh asters, slender blue flag and seaside plantains find refuge in undisturbed wetland areas of the preserve.

This 87-acre preserve is located in Southampton.