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Sherwood Island Celebrates 70th Birthday

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Sherwood Island State Park celebrates its 70th birthday on Sunday, and a celebration is scheduled for Saturday. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Jennifer Connic for WestportNow.com
By Jennifer Connic

On any given day at Sherwood Island State Park, people from all walks of life from a variety of urban and inland locations can be spotted sitting on the beach, fishing along the point or enjoying a nature walk.

For nearly 70 years, the state’s oldest park, which is nestled along Westport’s coast line, has provided people who don’t have access to an outdoor space or the beach a place to visit. The park will celebrate its birthday this weekend with a host of activities planned for Saturday starting at 10 a.m.

“It’s breathing space for people in cities,” said Marilyn Bakker, who compiled a history of the park for the Friends of Sherwood Island. “Although the park is in Westport, it draws people from Bridgeport and Norwalk. We have people who come from New York. It’s a getaway for them.”

Hope Hageman, who helped found the friends, said many people don’t realize Sherwood Island is Westport’s largest piece of open space at 235 acres.

Also, it’s a major site for bird watchers, she said, and 265 different species of birds have been identified at the park.

“It’s a habitat for all kinds of nature,” she said. “It’s an interesting mix of environmentalist and recreation people at the park, and it’s a major challenge to maintain the mix.”

There are a large number of urban visitors to the park at the peak of the summer, she said, and they have a respect for what they see there because they don’t have it in the cities.

Laurie Anderson, a Ridgefield resident who is helping organize Saturday’s activities, said the park is a haven for nature with open access to everyone.

“Sometimes you just need the beach,” she said. “We’re very wooded here in Ridgefield, and Sherwood Island gives us the beach.”

State officials first started plans to make Sherwood Island a state park in 1914, but it would take more than two decades for the state to buy the land, Bakker said.

Wealthy land owners in the area, she said, realized what some were doing to make it a park, and they didn’t want “those type of people” in their backyards.

On April 29, 1937, the state’s General Assembly approved a measure to buy the necessary parcels to form the park for $485,000.

Bakker said it is unclear how much the 1937 funding would be in 2007 dollars.

There were housing developments planned for the park before state officials approved the funding, she said.

There were plans to build 60 homes at the point, which is where the Sept. 11 Memorial is now located, she said, and another 60 homes were planned for the area along the West Beach.

The Friends of Sherwood Island, which started forming in the fall of 1995, sees the environmental and recreational constantly at odds with each other, Hageman said, which is why they are working to re-establish the nature center at the park.

The nature center was once a run-down former concession stand that sat on wetlands, she said, and it soon disappeared.

Now state officials are working with the friends to build a new one along the East Beach overlooking Long Island Sound, she said, and the Friends need to raise $50,000 to $100,000 to outfit the building.

State workers are constructing the building, she said, and the Friends will fill the building with the furnishings and exhibits.

On Saturday, visitors to the park will have the opportunity to listen to a steel band and children will be able to plant trees to celebrate the park’s anniversary. A ceremony is planned for 11:15 a.m.

Anderson said neighbor Brooks Jones felt the park needed more trees, so he donated the seedlings to be planted.

The park needs trees, he said, because it is causing some erosion.

Children will be able to plant 200 trees on Saturday, and student volunteers from Green’s Farms Academy will help, she said.

One thought on “Sherwood Island Celebrates 70th Birthday

  1. Sherwood was the first piece of open space bought by the state. So even back in 1937 people realized there was a need to buy land slated for houses to protect for future generations.

    We need to remind ourselves that no one is making any more land and if we don’t save what we can when we can we will lose it forever.

    Happy 70th Birthday Sherwood Island.  The Partrick Wetlands is just a toddler at 3 months but it will grow older.

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