The Off-Season

Past Kiddyland, the Gondola Wheel, and the Dragon Coaster lies a peaceful retreat on the Long Island Sound. Rye Playland, with its lights and flash and candy-coated vice is the big draw at the end of Playland Parkway, but in the quiet of a warm, early March Saturday, as the maintenance guys scale the heights of the wonder wheel to be sure it’s in sound working order, you can drive through the parking lot past all the big attractions. And there, at the very end, lies the Edith Read Sanctuary.

Read Sanctuary is a 179-acre county park and is recognized by the National Audubon Society as an important bird area by virtue of its location along a major migratory flyway. There is a small nature center with a well-stocked bird watching area replete with pairs of binos and lots of field guides right in front of a large window overlooking the feeder area. Behind the center is a short (3 miles) network of trails which travel through woods and along the sanctuary’s 85-acre pond. There is also a 1/2 mile section of shore accessible by a short path across from the nature center.

After I became a parent it occurred to me that the ultimate place for kids to play is on the beach. What could be better? They can splash, pour, dig, build, collect and be wet and filthy until their heart’s content. And no grown up would tell them to stop.

We headed first, after a visit to the nature center, out for a hike on the trails. The running joke among the parents was that although we were in an important bird area, we certainly wouldn’t be viewing any, as our children’s gleeful shrieks might make them feel leery about being spotted by humans.

We walked through the woods and along the pond, but there was a sense of purpose today among the hikers, rather than our usual take-our-time-and-explore vibe. One of the moms even said, “how much longer until we get there?” I had to laugh when she asked that. Because the fact was that everyone was looking forward to the beach.

After collecting the lunches from our cars, we crossed over to the Sound side of the sanctuary and headed to the beach. On the rocky stretch of shore, the mica glittered in the sunshine and the kids were delighted.Everything they picked up became either a treasure to collect or a vessel to launch into the water. We picnicked, strolled, gabbed and admired the beach tchotchkes our kids delivered for our viewing. But most importantly, we started to hang back. And the kids just did their thing. They played. They collected rocks and shells, waded along the shore in their rubber boots, watched things float and sink, and built elaborate sculptures out of shells and stones, seaweed and driftwood. One mom told me that her so n had asked her if she had any sand toys and she’d told him, no. “And that was it,” she went on to say, “off he went and I haven’t heard from him since. I didn’t really even bring enough for lunch and they haven’t complained about being hungry.” So this is what’s starting to emerge. Kids aren’t whining. They aren’t begging us to engage them. They’re engaging. On their own and with each other. Creating, imagining, exploring.

When we left, my eldest said, “I really loved that beach. There was so much to do there.”

Stones to throw and gather. Sand fleas to unearth from beneath the larger rocks. A horseshoe crab carcass to examine. Castles to build. There was so much to do there.


  1. I heard you mention your group at the Richard Louv lecture and made it my business to find your blog. Looks like you are doing great things! I would love to get something similar started in Rockland. Thanks for all the wonderful ideas! Rye is not that far away…

  2. I’m not sure where in Rockland you are, but there is a group over there called Nature Strollers. You can find them via the Child and Nature Network (of which Louv is the chair–scroll down to the bottom of the blog for the link). Though I think they may gear their hikes toward a younger crowd. Feel free to email me at as well.

    Great talk that evening. Thanks much for checking out the blog!

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