Meet Watch Hills new president and concessioner
Brooklyn native and professional engineer Doug Biviano and his family recall summering on Fire Island year after year, living off their sailboat docked at Ocean Bay Park or Atlantique. This year will mark their first living on-site at Watch Hill as the newest family concessioners.
Biviano and his wife Lee, three children Jesse, Quinn and college-bound Serena, and brother-in-law Steven Connor together plan to operate the snack bar, restaurant, marina, shop and camping grounds at Watch Hill, and the snack bar and marina at Sailors Haven. They also plan to host several nature tours and educational programs throughout the season.
Biviano, 49, signed the lease as the new president of Love Watch Hill and Sailors Haven Inc., selected by the National Park Service, in early May and began operations for the 2018 season just a few days later on May 18.
“It has been quite the undertaking,” Biviano said of the rush to become operational. “It’s been daunting, but we are excited to welcome everyone. We are staffed up and ready for the holiday weekend. We hope boaters and day trippers come to enjoy the wonderful seashore.”
Biviano and his family will be living full-time on-site for the 2018 season. And though he has been spending the last few weeks on the island, he said he has been working so hard he has barely seen the ocean. “We are putting a lot of heart in this; it’s a big operation,” he said.
Biviano is on-site and in charge of Watch Hill, while Connor is on-site and heads up Sailors Haven. His family, Biviano said, hopes they can share their love of the park with the visitors. In an effort to do so, they plan to host live music and multimedia programming with Fish Guy Photos, a nature photographer.
“We want to offer a little something for everyone to enjoy,” said Biviano, hoping to create a family-friendly environment. “It’s a really cool venue and we really want it to become a great family destination.”
Programming will include multimedia educational sessions on whales, protecting the waterways, birding and anything focused on park-based objectives. The wildlife and cultural center currently features art from his very own son adorning the walls and the general store will begin to sell local merchandise such as Carleton Clothing and I Love Long Island shirts, as well as local beach glass jewelry.
“We really want to support local artisans and the economy,” he added.
The pièce de résistance? The Whalehouse Point Restaurant and snack bars, which recently opened, will also now feature an updated menu, moving away from freezer to fryer. New menu items include dumplings and melon, wraps, salads and mahi-mahi tacos and will keep favorites like burgers and fries. To accompany the new menu, head chef Sean Blakeslee, nephew of Dick Blakeslee, owner of The Oar in Patchogue, and formerly the chef at CU29 in Sayville, will be running the show.
“We will be sourcing as locally as possible with fresh produce, crops and wine from the East End,” explained Biviano, “as well as locally caught oysters and clams.”
According to Blakeslee, it has been a challenge running a kitchen on the remote National Seashore, but he hopes to do something special and provide the visitors with high-quality seafood.
The Whalehouse will be the only place serving pancakes east of the Pines. Sailors Haven’s snack bar will now be called Sassyfrass and both parks will also host birthday parties in the park at kid tiki—the former location of the old tiki bar, which has been moved to the sunset deck on the northwest corner of the restaurant overlooking the bay.
In September 2016, work began on a multimillion-dollar project to replace electrical and lighting systems and the adjacent bulkhead and boardwalk, after damage suffered by Superstorm Sandy closed the park for the 2017 season. While the marina was closed, Fire Island National Seashore also completed work on the Salt Marsh Nature Trail, the visitor center exterior, and the ramp leading to the marina center. The main project was funded by the National Park Service and Federal Highways Administration and completed in December 2017. Sailors Haven Marina also underwent Sandy repairs (and closure) the prior year.
“We are excited to have both sites up and running this season,” said the Seashore’s facility manager Jim Dunphy. “With the opening of Watch Hill, we can close the chapter on Hurricane Sandy recovery at Fire Island National Seashore.”
Unfortunately, within months of the Watch Hill Marina project’s completion, some of the pilings were damaged by winter ice flow and required repair. The piling repair has been completed and the marina is fully operational.
Watch Hill is located on the western edge of the Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness, directly across the Great South Bay from Patchogue. The marina is home to 183 transient slips with water, electric and a pump-out station. Eight slips are administrative and 175 are available to boaters. As of 2018, reservations rates range from $2-$3 and advanced booking is available through dockwa.com. Whalehouse dinner guests, Biviano said, will also be offered free hourly docking.
Sailors Haven is located adjacent to the globally rare Sunken Forest, across the Great South Bay from Sayville. The 45-slip marina can accommodate boats with beams between 10 and 18 feet.
In addition to the restaurant, snack bars, marina and shop, Biviano will be running the campgrounds, which holds about 26 sand campsites behind dunes, accessible by ferry or private boat. He said he hopes to see four of those campsites ready for “glamping,” with 10-by-20 platforms, canvas and pole tents, beds and a covered porch hopefully ready by the end of July.
“It was a big undertaking, but it’s going to be brand new this year for Fire Island. People will be able to camp glamorously on a beautiful international park,” Biviano said. Once up and running, reservations and rates will be available at LoveFins.com.
“We are just looking to get the message out there that we are open and ready to welcome everyone. Whether it’s for a day trip by boat or ferry, it’s a wonderful way to spend a summer day,” he added.
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