About a mile off the coast of Norwalk, Connecticut lie the Norwalk Islands, consisting of 25 islands that stretch on for six miles. On bright, clear days, Manhattan’s skyscrapers are visible from the islands. Outdoor enthusiasts, locals, and visitors alike can find numerous activities to enjoy there. These islands are protected by town ordinances, the Coastal Barriers Resources Act, the National Wildlife Refuge, and the Endangered Species Act to ensure their preservation and the safety of their wildlife.
The Norwalk Islands are considered by geologists to be terminal moraines, formed by materials left behind by glaciers about 17,500 years ago. These moraines consist of various types of rocks, gravel, sand, clay, and silt. The Norwalk Islands are actually part of the same moraine as the Captain islands in Greenwich, Connecticut. According to some historians, the rocks from the Norwalk Islands may have even been used as ballast for ships returning to New York to make the ships more stable on their journey and then later used as cobblestones upon arriving in New York.
Each of the Norwalk Islands is unique. Some house beautiful meadows and woodlands while others are mainly rock and sand. One island is so small that it doesn’t have a name while Tavern Island is large enough to hold a private mansion complete with grounds and walkways. The largest island, Chimon, is situated in the middle of the group. It is protected by the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge and access to the island is restricted between April 1st to August 15 every year for bird-nesting season and no overnight camping is allowed although boaters are free to land on the northwest shore of the island year-round. The second largest island, Sheffield, is the southernmost island and is also part of the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge. Sheffield Island is home to many different birds and is also a great place to spot seals.
Cockenoe Island is owned by the Westport town government and boasts of almost all the bird rookeries on the island chain. Birds such as egrets, black cormorants, and herons can be spotted in plenty there. A nuclear power plant was almost built on Cockenoe Island by the United Illuminating Company in the 1960s but concerned locals convinced Westport to buy the island in 1967 for $200,000. Shea Island, previously known as Ram Island, was renamed in honor of a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient named Daniel Shea who died in the Vietnam War. This island is open to the public from May through Columbus day and houses 16 campsites for overnight campers. These are just a few of the unique islands that the Norwalk Islands chain has to offer with many more for visitors to explore.
Visiting the Norwalk Islands is a great way to explore nature while having fun. Sailboats, powerboats, and kayaks alike can enjoy a journey around the islands and other sandbars, shallows, and rocks. The gentle tides and breezes make the Norwalk Islands the perfect place for boats and kayaks. In fact, some kayakers paddle all the way from New York City. The Norwalk Islands Canoe and Kayak Trail offers a half-day or full-day loop and guided tours are also available. Fishing,clamming, and hunting are also permissible there. Fisherman can take their own boats and gear or use a fishing tour. Striped bass, flounder, trout, fluke, bluefish, false albacore, bonito, and dogfish, a type of shark, can be caught while fishing around the Norwalk Islands and clams and oysters can also be found. Hunters will also enjoy duck hunting season at there. They can anchor and hunt below the mean high tide line. Hunters might also hunt deer on the privately owned islands with the permission of the owner. Bird watching is another favorite activity that visitors to the Norwalk Islands can enjoy. The islands are considered a significant coastal habitat and many birds can be spotted throughout the islands and at the main rookery on Cockenoe Island. Beach-nesting terns, snowy egrets, ibises, double-crested cormorants, and black-crowned night herons are commonly spotted as well as the occasional songbird. The best way to observe these birds is by kayak or canoe since herons and egrets are largely unphased by their presence and black cormorants can be spotted perching on hills.
The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk hosts trips that travel through the islands. There is a fall foliage tour and a winter tour that allows visitors to observe the waterfowl and harbor seals. The Norwalk Seaport Association also offers tours during the summer to Sheffield Island, where visitors can see the lighthouse and picnic and hike. Camping with a permit is also allowed on on Grassy, Cockanoe, and Shea Islands from April until October. Camping on the islands is recommended for those who enjoy the challenge of camping with minimal assistance as the campsites are rustic and there is no fresh water on the islands although Shea Island doe have restrooms.
The Norwalk Islands are also home to many different types of wildlife. Not only are there many types of birds, but deer and seals can be spotted among the islands as well. Deer actually swim to the islands and harbor seal numbers have been increasing in recent years at the Norwalk Islands. The islands also have a variety of plants, including black cherry, thorn thickets, bittersweet, wild blackberries, sassafras, honeysuckle, and juniper.
The Norwalk Islands of Connecticut are truly an amazing part of Connecticut’s history and natural beauty. Not only are the islands beautiful with their many different types of flora and fauna but they also have recreational activities that are perfect for almost anyone, from boating and kayaking to camping and birdwatching. Here, humans and wildlife can enjoy each other’s company. Each visit to the Norwalk Islands will be sure to bring new adventures and experiences for its visitors.