Fire Island National Seashore was established by Congress on September 11, 1964, following a long history of preservation efforts, most with grass-roots support.
- In 1908, part of Fire Island that had been the site of the Surf Hotel, just east of the Fire Island Lighthouse, was preserved for public use by the State of New York. Governor Charles Evans Hughes signed a bill authorizing Fire Island State Park, the first state park on Long Island. This park was expanded in 1924, and was later renamed Robert Moses State Park. That portion to the east of the Fire Island Lighthouse was transferred to Fire Island National Seashore on November 10, 1978.
- One of the first portions of Fire Island to be protected from development was the Sunken Forest. On Friday, September 9, 1938, an article in the Suffolk County News announced that Robert Cushman Murphy "Fears Fire Island Highway Would Ruin Sunken Forest" in response to concerns that the county might build a road along Fire Island Beach. Murphy is quoted as saying that it would be a good idea for the county or Federal government to acquire the forest and administer it as a natural sanctuary.
In the 1950s, a concerned group of private citizens gradually cobbled together a 50-acre tract of beach, dunes and ancient holly forest just east of Point O'Woods through a fundraising campaign spearheaded in 1952 by the Wildlife Preserves, Inc., and The Nature Conservancy. Sunken Forest Sanctuary was officially dedicated as the Sunken Forest Preserve in 1960. The entrance plaque can still be seen along the western trail entrance. In May 1966, the Sunken Forest Preserve, Inc. donated the property to the recently established (1964) Fire Island National Seashore, under the condition that the property shall always be maintained in its natural state and operated as a sanctuary, and that no public road or highway shall be built through it.
- The Wilderness Act was passed on September 3, 1964. Fire Island National Seashore's enabling legislation refers to a zone between Davis Park and Smith Point County Park for which "access ... shall be provided by ferries and footpaths only" and "no development or plan for the convenience of visitors shall be undertaken therein which would be incompatible with the preservation of the flora or fauna or the physiographc conditions now prevailing, ..." After many years of local involvement, this portion of the Seashore was designated as the Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness on December 23, 1980.
The Fire Island Association (FIA), which was established in 1955, has posted several articles about the history of Fire Island before the establishment of this National Park Service area, and has posted a manuscript authored in 1963 by Dr. Michael Fry, which provides an account of the events leading up to this designation.