Add to the many things Westporters don’t know about Sherwood Island State Park — its various beaches, sand dunes and 9/11 Memorial — one more: There’s a Nature Center on site.
A very interesting and comprehensive Nature Center, in fact.
A cooperative effort of the state Department of Environmental Protection and Friends of Sherwood Island, its now in its 3rd year. A wide variety of displays and exhibits help visitors understand the rich diversity of plant and animal life inhabiting the park.
Few of those visitors are from Westport. For us, Sherwood Island is both out of sight and out of mind.
But a few Staples students find it. They’re interns, working with DEP staff and docents.
Taylor McNair — a June SHS grad headed for Emory University — heard about the Nature Center from his friend Jon Wormser. Jon’s mother is a Friend of Sherwood Island, and Jon has worked there for several years.
Taylor, Jon and the other interns show off animals: turtles, snakes, crabs, snails, lobsters, sea urchins, native fish and many other sea creatures. They explain everything that grows and lives in the marshes and Sound. They help kids enjoy the “touch tank.”
“People think Long Island Sound isn’t very interesting. But it really is,” Taylor says.
He’s learned plenty, by reading and listening to the directors and other interns. Some interns are part of the aquaculture project at Trumbull High School’s regional agricultural and biotech magnet school.
Ellie Gilchrist is one of those students. She volunteered at the Nature Center for several years. This year, she’s old enough to be paid.
“I’ve learned about so many creatures in the Sound,” she says. “I also learned to deal with people — naturalists, co-workers, kids and visitors.”
She loves her internship, but wishes there were more bilingual programs. Many visitors speak Spanish.
Taylor, Ellie and the other interns also help out with — and learn from — the free Thursday lecture series. Topics range from raptors to undersea diving.
This Thursday (July 19, 6 p.m.), Marilyn Bakker speaks on the 23-year fight, from 194 to 1937, during which advocates for Connecticut’s 1st state park battled neighboring landowners, real estate developers and the town of Westport.
It’s a little-remembered part of Westport history. Perhaps that story will entice some local residents out to the Sherwood Island.
If they go, odds are good they’ll stay for the bivalves, birds and fascinating beach exhibits.
(The Nature Center is located between East Beach and the salt marsh nature trail. Hours are are Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.)