Childhood North Fork summers are something special: North Fork Family

Jenna Stankaitis of Calverton gets her face painted at a recent Love Lane First Fridays.

As I scroll through Instagram and Facebook, I’m seeing a lot of beautiful landscapes, ice-cream-smeared grins, and flat tires on mountain roads. It’s high season for family vacations, the American ritual of piling into planes, trains and automobiles for destinations both unknown and well-worn.

But you won’t see far-flung travel photos on North Fork Family social media. The gorgeous vistas are cumulus clouds over Little Peconic Bay and the treeline across acres of fields at Hallockville Museum Farm. The smeared ice cream is from Magic Fountain. The flat is being patched at Eastern Tire. We aren’t going anywhere. 

Why would we leave? Last summer we converted airline miles for a 10-day family trip. It was wonderful, and we felt privileged to be able to travel with our children, who were finally at an age where it was more fun than difficult. But the whole time we knew we — especially our kids — were missing out on the glory of a North Fork summer.

July and August are magical months for children on the North Fork. I think it’s a combination of the geography, the nature-minded community and the plethora of activities that make summers here so much fun.

Our kids love even simple things made possible by the climate. Starting in June, we eat every meal outside. No, we’re not grilling three times a day (though some members of our household would welcome it), we just bring out what we’d otherwise eat indoors. Our kids get used to it and in October, when we finally start using our dining room again, they protest. Stephan Roussan, a local dad, avid outdoorsman, and Mattituck business owner, said his family especially appreciates “never having a day without sand between your toes,” watching the ospreys play divebomber and the evening breeze at the end of a hot day.

Greenport mom and educator Trish Eckardt said her children enjoy being in nature, climbing trees and having the beach be their constant playground. Her 7-year-old son Jack said, “I love not having to wear shoes.” James, age 9, said he loves “being in the water, running around barefoot, fishing, and exploring the beach,” as well as sailing and paddle boarding. And Therese, who’s 4, said, “I like jumping off the paddle board! Oh, and I love catching fireflies. But, we can only do that at night.”

The camp and activity options are endless and often overlapping. You simply can’t do them all. For kids who love being outdoors, there’s farm camp, horse camp, marine camp, sailing camp, soccer camp and good old-fashioned day camp. I’ve heard great things about and/or experienced my kids’ delight at Turtleback Farm, Sang Lee, Arts on the Farm and Little Sprouts at Hallockville Museum Farm, as well as Cornell Cooperative Extension’s marine camps and all of the yacht club youth programs. Friends rave about the Town of Riverhead’s Summer Rec camp in Jamesport and the Peconic Dunes 4-H Camp, both full-day programs (helpful for working parents!).

For children who need a break from the sun, Ellen Goldstein offers summer classes in New Suffolk for art, animation, and cooking. East End Arts in Riverhead has a variety of camps with a focus on different kinds of art and music. There’s also a variety of family-oriented evening events, which offer families a chance to be together outdoors in the cooler part of the day. Greenport’s Dances in the Park series on Monday nights at Mitchell Park, First Fridays on Love Lane, and the Maritime Festival are all-ages events with a friendly atmosphere, music, and something of interest for nearly everyone.

Stephan also pointed to one more highlighted aspect of summers on the North Fork that I treasure. When you get through your week, it’s finally Saturday and “the hardest decision is: Sound? Bay? Creek? Ocean?” How lucky we are to be surrounded by such options.

Sara Berliner is the founder of North Fork Family. Her column appears monthly on northforker.com. Find her on Instagram and Facebook @northforkfamily. She lives in Cutchogue with her, yes, #northforkfamily.

2 Comment

  • The North Fork is a paradise for children of all ages. In the 1990’s we raised our two children in a house in Mattituck spending summers barefoot in our yard. We grew a garden, played games on the lawn, picnicked, and lay on blankets on August nights to look up at the meteor showers. Today my grown children visit with their young children and tragically it is a different summer for all of us. Our once idyllic lawns are now infested with disease carrying ticks, threatening our health and forcing us to keep our children (and ourselves) on the raised deck or indoors. They are afraid to visit and have returned home only to find they have contracted a tick-borne disease during their stay. The dramatic over-population of deer since the 1990’s has produced an explosion of ticks on our sunny lawns (as adult ticks they need a large mammal for the blood meal in order to reproduce). We have lost the paradise of carefree summers and I for one mourn the loss.

  • Beautiful article and so true. The North Fork is truly a quiet haven with enough activity to keep you hopping…if you wish.