On an overcast but warm morning in early June, a group of interested walkers explored the southern-most terminus of land in the Connecticut River where it meets Long Island Sound. Celebrating Trails Day, a national “get out and walk” event that in Connecticut is coordinated by the Connecticut Forest and Parks Association, these participants were also excited to be experiencing a Long Island Sound Stewardship Area – a place where the public can experience the wonders of our nationally significant Long Island Sound estuary.
Griswold Point is managed by The Nature Conservancy. It is an important refuge for nesting piping plovers (a federally protected bird species), along with least terns (considered threatened in Connecticut), willets, egrets, herons, oyster catchers, and plenty of ospreys and gulls – all of which were seen during the walk. Of particular delight was the opportunity to observe newly hatched plover chicks – tiny balls of speckled feathers on gangly legs that dart across the sand, blending imperceptibly with their surroundings when they stop. Parents and chicks stay in contact using soft peeps, making it possible to follow their movements as they weave back and forth from dune to mud flats. Our group kept a healthy distance from the nesting birds, and turned around when we could go no further without getting too close.
A place as dynamic as the Griswold Point spit – a wandering narrow band of sand that changes, sometimes dramatically, from year to year – provides a good opportunity to talk about natural coastal processes and the value of living shorelines. In the absence of bulkheads, groins, or seawalls, the Point provides a rare example of how dynamic the interface between land and sea can be. Marsh peat, once protected behind the seaward edge of the sand spit at Griswold Point, can now be found exposed at low tide (some woven with Phragmites rhizomes) and being swept by the waves of the Sound.
We talked about the changing climate, glacial geology, the resilience of native coastal plants, and the plight of the salt marsh sparrow – all as we periodically raised binoculars or pointed to various sea birds active around us, or paused to flip over a dead horseshoe crab.
Protected areas, such as Long Island Sound Stewardship Areas, provide dynamic living laboratories as well as protected wildlife habitat, and are equally important to enable the general public an opportunity to see the beauty and utility of Long Island Sound. In Connecticut in particular, access to the Long Island Sound shoreline is limited, and access to Griswold Point by foot is restricted during the summer months, making the annual Trails Day event particularly special.
Our group got wet on the return, as the mid-tide coursed toward full and the spit became an island. With characteristic good cheer, people out for the morning’s adventure rolled up their pant legs (or not) and splashed to shore.