Nature Center Hides In Plain Sight

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.

Sherwood Island Nature Center intern Taylor McNair shows a snake to visitors. (Photo/Stevie Klein)

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.

One of the many attractions at the Sherwood Island Nature Center.

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.

The Sherwood Island Nature Center.

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.)

Some of the Sherwood Island Nature Center interns pose with Senator Richard Blumenthal (the only one wearing a tie) and director Rindy Higgins (far right).

9 responses to “Nature Center Hides In Plain Sight

  1. And that’s probably one of the reasons why you choose to hold your “meetings” at Compo Beach rather than at Sherwood Island: admission to the state park is not cheap [$9 (week-days), $13 (week-ends), $67 (season pass)]. I wonder if that’s what William Burr – Westporter and “father of the park” – intended when he donated the original two parcels of beachfront property to the state?

    • John McCarthy

      Sure beats having non-beach goers pay for it. Westport Parks & Rec budget is almost entirely paid for by user-fees.

    • For the record, Mr. Burr did not have land to donate to the park. He was authorized by the State Parks Commission to puchase parcels when they became available. In its 1917 report, the SPC said: “The name of William H. Burr of Westport will remain inseparably linked with the first purchases of Sherwood Island as they passed to the state through his local knowledge and good offices, and he is thus the grantor of record.” Marilyn Bakker

  2. Nice! Thanks for bringing this facility to light. I never knew it was there.

    I wonder if you have to pay the full parking fee for beach if you just want to go to the Nature Center.

    • Admission to the speaker series is free at 6 p.m. Before that, though, I think you have to pay admission to the park. If I’m wrong, I’m sure someone will point it out!

  3. Rindy Higgins, Director

    Dan, thanks for wrting about this hidden gem and you are correct about the parking fees. The park is beautiuful and worth a chunk of time: try a picnic, a walk or bike about and a visit to The Nature Center. The Center itself with its live animals and programs is free, thanks to Friends Of Sherwood Island. Private programs with schools and camps ..or maybe a family party…can be arranged through me via the contact spot on the website. In addition to the lectures, two family fun programs which are free and come with free parking after 6p are: Animal Embassy with exotic animals on Aug. 11 at 6p and a Native American storyteller on Aug. 18 at 6p.

    There is a lot happening there so it’s best to keep checking the calendar on the website

  4. The park is great. And definitely worth the parking fee. Or, try cycling there and pay nothing!

  5. You are so right, I always forget about it and don’t think I’ve been there since high school … and back then it was a place to sip “sodas” ;)) A great place to bring my peanut … thanks for the reminder!!!

  6. Jack Whittle

    I have to admit that I haven’t been to Sherwood Island since . . um . . . Senior skip day 1981. After reading this, perhaps I’m due for a return visit (with my kids, who’d better be left in the dark about dad’s last visit.