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 68-acre Chimon, undeveloped and scarcely visited by humans, was the largest heronry in Long Island Sound. 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 have negatively impacted the heronry over the years. However, with ongoing management of the islands, it is hoped that the birds will continue to feed, rest, and nest there. A small beach area is open to the public for passive recreation.

Like Chimon, the 67-acre Sheffield Island Unit of the Stewart B. McKinney Wildlife Refuge has visitor areas open to the public. 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.

The other large Norwalk islands include Shea, owned by the City of Norwalk, and Cockenoe, an important waterbird nesting site owned by the Town of Westport. Smaller islands, like Goose, support nesting cormorants, gulls and horseshoe crabs.

Watch staff from US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Stewart B. McKinney National 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 their rich, stratified ecosystem.
  • Sheffield and Chimon Islands have the potential to support a significant wading bird colony once again.
  • There is a substantial waterbird rookery on Cockenoe Island, the third-largest in the Norwalk collective.
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.
  • Go camping at Shea Island. There are 16 available campsites, which you can register for by calling 203-866-8810 or visiting the Veteran’s Park Boating Center. 
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, guided hiking tours, useful links, and much more.

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.

Sheffield Island Lighthouse History 

The New England Lighthouse Association provides a history of the Sheffield Island Lighthouse, including the beginnings of its unique lighting system to its modern solar-powered light. Learn more about the different keepers who have maintained this historical landmark over the years. 

Places to Visit
  • The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk makes for an exciting and educational family excursion. From 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. Stop by the 4-D theater for a one-of-a-kind experience!
  • Visit the Sheffield Island Lighthouse, a ten-room Victorian style lighthouse built in 1868. You can buy tickets for a lighthouse and harbor tour here. 
  • The Lockwood-Matthews Mansion is now a National Historic Landmark and a museum. Check out some of their rotating exhibits, or go on a house tour. 
Get Involved/Events
  • The Norwalk Seaport Association, the “Keepers of Sheffield Island Lighthouse,” has been committed to preserving and promoting the island since 1978, including offering the only organized transport to Sheffield Island. The Association’s popular attractions include the annual Oyster Festival at Veterans Memorial Park every September, relaxing sunset cruises through the Sound, and more! 
  • The Norwalk River Watershed Association’s events calendar displays free programs on the river’s importance and features, while its volunteer page suggests ways that anyone can help out.
  • The CT Coastal Access Guide provides directions and background on Sheffield Island and its lighthouse, and the Maritime Aquarium. Use the Guide search bar to look up these areas, and zoom in and out to explore what opportunities exist near you!
Field Notes
  • No pets are allowed on the islands.
  • 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!
Credits
  • History of Sheffield Island Light House, Norwalk, CT. Newenglandlighthouses.net/sheffield-island-light-history.html. New England Lighthouses. Web. June 30, 2021. 
  • Norwalk River Watershed Association. Norwalkriver.org/. Norwalk River Watershed Association. Web. June 30, 2021. 
  • Salt Marsh Trends in Selected Estuaries of Southwestern Connecticut. Longislandsoundstudy.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Salt-Marsh-Trends-in-Selected-Estuaries-in-Southwestern-CT.pdf. Long Island Sound StudyWeb. June 30, 2021.  

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