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Norwalk Islands

The rocky shores of Norwalk Islands are a great habitat for waterbirds. (Photo by Sibel Güner)

Location: Norwalk, CT

Anchor Site(s): Chimon and Sheffield Islands (part of the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge)

About the Site: Chimon and Sheffield Islands are the two largest of approximately 25 islands that comprise the Norwalk Islands. In 1980 an investigative visit by Milan Bull (Senior Director of Science and Conservation, Connecticut Audubon Society) revealed that 70-acre Chimon, undeveloped and scarcely visited by humans, was the only heronry in Long Island Sound and the most significant anywhere east of New Jersey. Substantial conservation efforts unfolded to protect the thousands of herons, egrets, and gulls that depended on the island, now owned by the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge. Wildlife like raccoon and deer negatively impact the heronry. However, with appropriate management of the islands more birds are expected to return.

Unlike Chimon, the 67-acre Sheffield Island Unit of the Stewart B. McKinney Wildlife Refuge has visitor areas open to the public (from late May to September). The island also includes a lighthouse, which is owned and maintained by the Norwalk Seaport Association. The association’s ferry brings passengers to the island every summer and fall, where families and friends can picnic, play games, enjoy a tour of the lighthouse, go swimming, and appreciate its beautiful nature trail and viewing area.

13 Click photo and watch staff from US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Stewart B. McKinney Natinal Wildlife Refuge Unit coordinate a volunteer day to remove invasive species and clear the trail at Sheffield Island.

Ecological Importance

  • The Stewardship Area is a critical nesting site and migratory stopover for waterbirds.
  • It is also a prime wintering area for significant numbers of harbor seals.
  • The island habitats are considered exemplary for its rich, stratified ecosystem.
  • Sheffield and Chimon Islands have the potential to support a significant wading bird colony once again.
  • A substantial colonial waterbird rookery on Cockenoe Island, the third largest in the Norwalk collective, finds ample opportunities to feed on prey.


Recreational Opportunities

  • Experience the islands from the water—the Norwalk Islands are a major landmark for canoeing and kayaking.
  • Take the ferry (when operating in season) to Sheffield Island for wildlife viewing, picnicking, and a tour of its famous lighthouse.

Dive Deeper

  • Norwalk River Watershed Association
    The Norwalk River Watershed Association (NRWA) web page is a top resource for historical and current details on the Norwalk area. It features an up-to-date events calendar, volunteer information, and a vast collection of freely available publications that are both practical and ecologically insightful. Canoers and kayakers can use the photo atlas map to get acquainted with points along the Norwalk River, while anyone with a general interest in the Norwalk Islands can browse hundreds of links by focus and type.
  • Salt Marsh Trends in Selected Estuaries in Southwestern CT
    This document by US Fish and Wildlife Service details salt marsh trends in estuaries including Canfield Island Cove, directly adjacent to Calf Pasture Beach and Veterans Park. The study tracks the changes in high marsh, low marsh, and tidal flats in six study areas over the years 1974-2004. Charts and aerial photographs make clear the impact of rising sea levels on these invaluable habitats.
  • Kayaking in and Around Norwalk Islands” David Park, 2009.
    This practical and photographic guide, written by local resident and NRWA board member David Park, is complete with advice on launching, navigating, and camping the various Norwalk islands. It can be purchased directly from the NRWA website, and 40 percent of proceeds from each sale go towards protection of the Norwalk watershed.

Places to Visit

  • The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk makes for an exciting and educational family excursion. From 34 exhibits journeying through the rich habitats of the Long Island Sound to close encounters with animals like sharks and seals, the aquarium has long been a popular attraction. Even come at night to view Hollywood blockbusters (and nature films too) in its IMAX Theatre!

Get Involved/Events

Field Notes

      • No pets are allowed on the isalnds.
      • The trails at Sheffield Island are open to the public from late-May to late-September. The designated beach area at Chimon Island is open year round to the public.
      • The Norwalk Islands are accessible by boat only, so you must ride a ferry or coordinate your own canoe, kayak, or boat to reach them.
      • The Norwalk Seaport Association provides spring and summer ferry transport to Sheffield Island; visit its website or call 203-838-9444 for information on fees, times, and availability.
      • The City of Norwalk maintains docks for visitors to use for a small fee; check out the Visitors’ Dock web page for hours, rates, and details.
      • Long Beach hummock, a small body of sand that almost disappears during high tide, can be dangerous to boaters unfamiliar with the area.
      • The islands can get buggy in the summer!

Return to the main Stewardship page

Did You Know?

          • Oysters have been harbored in Norwalk Harbor for centuries. If you’ve eaten oysters in New England, they probably came from Norwalk; its oyster industry is one of the most prominent in the world!
          • CT’s former record striped bass, at 71 pounds, was caught at Norwalk Islands in 1980. The record haul had mostly recently been 79 pounds off Atlantic City until 2011 when a fisherman in Westbook, CT caught a bass of nearly 82 pounds.

Norwalk Islands

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