Great Neck – Goshen Point

Location

Waterford, CT

Anchor Site(s)

Harkness Memorial State Park and William A. Niering Natural Area Preserve

About the Sites

Harkness Memorial is one of only two state parks on the National Register of Historic Places. Much of the Park’s historic distinction is attributed to Eolia, the grand former summer home of philanthropists Edward and Mary Harkness, and its surrounding gardens and greenhouse. This Gatsby-era mansion is among the best remaining examples of the grand seaside estates that once occupied the Sound’s shoreline at the beginning of the twentieth century. The park’s meticulously maintained 230-acre grounds feature spectacular formal gardens, expansive lawns and picnic areas, natural sandy beach, and panoramic views of the Sound.

The 31-acre William A. Niering Natural Area Preserve (NAP), managed as part of Harkness, is an unusual mix of landscapes within a relatively small area characterized by a long narrow beach, low sand dune, saltmarsh and saltwater cove, and coastal grassland. In 2000, the NAP was renamed from Goshen Cove to honor the late William Niering, PhD, a renowned botanist and wetland ecologist at Connecticut College, and his lifetime of dedication to natural science research, education, and conservation of Connecticut’s natural heritage.

Watch a video tour of Harkness Memorial Park, from the air and the ground. Credit: Friends of Harkness

Ecological Importance
  • This relatively small area includes a variety of landscapes, from the manicured grounds of the Harkness estate to four distinct ecological habitats: dunes, barrier beach, saltmarsh, and grasslands. A rare sea-level fen dominated by the tall switchgrass can be seen along the upland border of the tidal wetland. Periodic prescribed burns are conducted at the NAP to sustain the grassland.
  • The barrier beach known as The Strand supports two state-threatened bird species, piping plover and least tern, as well as a plant on the state list of special concern, the seabeach sandwort.
  • A saltwater cove, protected by a shrub thicket and grasslands on either side, offers a protected habitat for finfish and shellfish.
  • The Niering Preserve is a valuable nesting area for birds like osprey, meadowlark, and bobolink, and is as an important scientific research site.
Recreational Opportunities
  • Enjoy a stroll through four unique and intricate formal gardens.
  • Have a family picnic on the great lawn or relax on the beach.
  • Rent Eolia for weddings, private parties, seminars, conferences, and luncheons.
  • Book a mansion tour between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day
  • Try your luck fishing for blackfish, bluefish, and striped bass from the rocky point, or for summer flounder off of the beach.
  • Fly a kite, which is a popular pastime at Harkness.
Dive Deeper
  • William Niering: Connecticut College Remembrance
    William Niering’s legendary adventures as an inspiring instructor, researcher, and conservation activist are described on the Connecticut College website in a collection of moving dedications and editorials. Read the article describing the dedication of the Niering NAP, formerly known as Goshen Cove, as a tribute to the professor’s decades of commitment to preserving Connecticut’s natural heritage.
  • Beatrix Farrand: Private Gardens, Public Landscapes
    Complete with beautiful color photos, this book outlines the life and work of one of the foremost landscape architects of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and provides context for the timeless gardens surrounding Eolia.
  • From the Shore: Piping Plover – Least Tern Recovery Project
    This LISS document summarizes the 2011 results of state-wide efforts to monitor and protect the nesting habitats of least terns (state threatened) and piping plovers (state, federally, and globally threatened). Conducted by CTDEEP in partnership with various organizations and enthusiasts, these data are a useful reference for several stewardship sites.
Places to Visit
  • Visit the nearby Ocean Beach Park and go for a swim in the either the ocean or in the Olympic-size pool.  
  • Camp Harkness is one of the only state parks in the country to be dedicated solely for the use of people with disabilities. Features of the park includes cabins, horseback riding, and a beach with a boardwalk. Click here to find out how to get a pass. 
  • Alewife Cove is a great place to take your kayaks or to go for a hike along marshlands. 
Get Involved/Events
  • Camp Harkness, run by the Connecticut Department of Developmental Services, offers a unique summer camp for children with disabilities during the third week of August each year. 
  • The Friends of Harkness website features an events calendar and various volunteer opportunities. The group actively works to maintain and restore the estate.
  • The CT DEEP website features an overview of Harkness Memorial’s historical background, season pass information, directions, and nearby recreational areas.
Field Notes
  • Because it is an important site for piping plovers, parts of Harkness beach are fenced off seasonally to provide undisturbed nesting areas for these globally endangered birds.
  • While Harkness beach is a great environment to go fishing or relax by the water, swimming is forbidden year-round.
Credits
  • From the Shore. Longislandsoundstudy.net/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/From-the-Shore-11.pdf. Long Island Sound Study. Web. July 26, 2021. 
  • William A. Niering. Conncoll.edu/in-memoriam/william-a-niering/. Connecticut College. Web. July 26, 2021. 

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