Jun 14, 2012
07:53 AMDiscover Connecticut
As befits a state with some 253 miles of shoreline on Long Island Sound and countless others along and around its rivers and lakes, Connecticut is a good place for islands. By one estimate, there are 180 of them large enough to be named, more than there are Connecticut cities and towns. And they are named after all sorts of things. There’s Peach Island and Potato Island, Umbrella, Sixpenny, Cut in Two and East Stooping Bush. There are a lot of islands named after animals: Hen, Horse, Rat, Pelican, Goose, Goat, Fox, Duck, Deer, Crow, Cat, Clam, Bear, Ram, Peacock and Mouse. The largest is Selden Island, in the Connecticut River, at 607 acres. The smallest is little more than an anonymous lump that reveals itself at low tide and then menaces local boat traffic after the tide comes back in.
There are many ways for you to enjoy Connecticut’s islands this summer. You can walk out to Charles Island off Milford, kayak through the Thimbles off Branford, take a boat and a picnic out to Sheffield Island off Norwalk, or spend an afternoon with a cooler and a beach chair on Dart Island, just off a bend of the river shoreline in Middletown. Enjoy one of the islands around you. It’s a good way to spend a summer day in Connecticut.
Connecticut is home to 23 lighthouses along the Sound, but not many are open to the public. That’s not the case with Sheffield Island, off Norwalk, where, following a pleasant boat ride, visitors can hike, picnic and climb up into the lighthouse for a tour.
From May through September, the Norwalk Seaport Association’s 45-foot catamaran runs scheduled cruises to the island, where the lighthouse tower provides views of Long Island Sound and, on a clear day, the New York City skyline. The 10-room lighthouse, which first went into service in 1868, displays period furniture, and a glimpse of what life was like for the families of 19th-century keepers.
Another attraction of Sheffield Island is the nature trail that runs through the Stewart B. McKinney Wildlife Refuge. A variety of wildlife including nesting herons and other birds can be observed from viewing platforms.
For further info, call (203) 838-9444 or visit seaport.org.
Walk This Way
You know when it’s low tide along the shore at Silver Sands State Park in Milford. That’s when the pathway to Charles Island opens up, above, allowing for one of Connecticut’s most peculiar hikes. The island is connected to the mainland by a sand/gravel bar (wear sturdy waterproof shoes if you go) that resubmerges at high tide. The notorious pirate Captain Kidd is said to have buried some of his treasure on the island in 1699 just before he was captured. If you go looking for some of his gold, be sure it’s during the off-season. Charles Island’s interior is closed May 1 through Aug. 31 to protect heron and egret rookeries.
The islands that dot Long Island Sound are the most photographed and famous, but it’s not so well known that the Connecticut River, as it runs through Connecticut, is home to 15 islands. Chief among these is Selden Island, at 607 acres the largest in the state. Selden was once the westernmost extremity of Lyme that jutted into the river, but an 1854 flood altered the landscape and turned it into an island, separated from the shore by Selden Creek. Today, as Selden Neck State Park, it’s Connecticut’s only island state park. With its many put-ins, it’s a popular destination for boaters, especially on summer weekends. The island’s features include marked hiking trails (which pass by the ruins of an ancient farm and a stone quarry) and four boating camp areas—primitive in nature (outhouses and pit fireplaces) but blissfully removed from the workaday world. For further info, visit ct.gov/dep.
Depending upon how you define what an island is, there are possibly more than 100 Thimble Islands, but only a couple dozen that are large enough to be inhabited. The Indian name for them translates to “beautiful sea rocks,” and on a calm summer morning you can see why. With their pink granite heads poking above the high-water mark (barely, in some cases), they scatter like a handful of charms across the Sound from Indian Neck to Sachem’s Head.
What’s more, each island has a story to tell—how it got its name, what Capt. Kidd buried there, where the horse came ashore and so on. One good way to hear these stories is to take a cruise among the islands. You can do this by going to thimbleislands.com orthimbleislandcruise.com. Or you can just take a kayak out and make up your own stories.
It would be hard to devote any sort of space to the subject of islands in Connecticut without mentioning the great natural treasure known as the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge.
Spread across some 950 acres of barrier beach, tidal wetland and other habitats in 10 locations along the shore, the refuge provides a protected environment for shorebirds, wading birds, songbirds, and even endangered species such as the roseate tern. Here, the birds can nest, feed or just rest as they make their way up and down the Atlantic Flyway. Adjacent waters serve as wintering habitat for brant, scoters, American black ducks and other waterfowl.
The islands in this archipelago include Outer Island in Branford, Falkner Island in Guilford, Chimon, Sheffield, Goose and Peach islands in Norwalk and Calf Island in Greenwich. Outer Island and Sheffield Island are accessible by ferry; some of the others can be accessed by private boat.