The Elizabeth A. Morton Wildlife Refuge
Generously Contributed by Ken Kindler
You wake up on a lovely summer day and want to treat your family to a delightful experience with nature but you didn’t plan anything in advance. Where to go with the kids for a spontaneous adventure when you want to spend a lovely day outside? Have you ever been to the Elizabeth A. Morton Wildlife Refuge in Noyac? If you answered no, you and your family are in for a delightful discovery! This land (187 acres) was donated to the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service in 1954 by Mrs. Elizabeth Morton Tilton and is a tranquil place with easy-to-follow trails.
After the long drive, you will appreciate the restroom facilities, chipmunks, chickadees, woods, and the Peconic Bay. You will want to bring along some sunflower seeds. Be certain the seeds are unsalted. Salt will harm the birds. As you walk along the 1.5-mile nature trail, remember to walk slowly and quietly and to listen for the chickadees. They will call you, “cheet, twit, cheet, twit” as they implore, “we’re hungry.” Hold a few sunflower seeds out in your palms and wait for the chickadees to land on your fingers and grab the seeds.
You have to remain very still for a while and hold your hands out away from your body. If by chance they’re not feeding during your visit, please don’t leave the seeds on the trail; this will attract rats, and will also thwart other visitor’s attempts at hand feeding.
The trail is easy to follow. It offers great opportunities for bird watching, photography, environmental education, and surfcasting should you decide to walk to the beach. Be sure to bring your binoculars, for observing the wildlife and for the beautiful views that you will see once you hike out onto the beach. The trails visit ponds, a salt marsh lagoon, and grasslands. When you complete the loop trail, you can follow the trail to the beach.
From September through March you may enjoy a tranquil 1.75 mile walk out along Jessup’s Neck. Once out on the Neck, you have a beautiful view of the North Fork, Shelter Island, North Haven, and Robin’s Island. Be aware that from April through August much of this beach is closed to the public in order to protect endangered and threatened species, such as piping plovers, least and roseate terns, peregrine falcons, and osprey who use it for nesting and brood rearing. A viewing platform was recently completed near the entrance to the beach. From this vantage point, you can unobtrusively observe these endangered animals.
Each year this trail becomes closer to being fully wheelchair and stroller accessible. This is a goal to which the National Wildlife Refuge is committed. The restrooms, information kiosks, bicycle racks, benches, excellent bridges, well-maintained parking lot, and the ready means of obtaining permits make this an enjoyable place to visit. On your way back to the parking lot, stop and enjoy a snack at one of the benches. Please observe the “leave no trace” policy. Whatever you bring into the Refuge with you, you must also take out.
Directions to the Elizabeth A. Morton National Wildlife Refuge: From County Road 39, head east past Southampton College, bear left onto North Sea Road. Follow the sign for Route 52, Sag Harbor, and North Sea. After traveling 2.4 miles, bear right by a small sign on the right side of the road that reads Morton NWR 5 miles. You are now on Noyac Road (also known as Route 38 and/or Noyack Road). In exactly 5 miles, you will see the entrance to the Morton NWR on the left side of the road.
The Morton NWR in Sag Harbor is open from ½ hour before sunrise to ½ hour after sunset. For more information call the Long Island NWR Complex (631) 286-0485. A daily pass for a car is $4.00; for a pedestrian or bicyclist, it’s $2.00 (a bike rack is furnished at the entrance). An annual pass is available for only $12.00. Fee envelopes (and a collection receptacle in which to deposit them) are provided at the Refuge entrance. The National Wildlife Refuge appreciates and depends upon your voluntary cooperation.