Monday, June 1, 2020

Getting a Start on Summer

By Beth Sullivan

We are on the threshold of summer. So many of us wait so hopefully, each and every year, for the sunny warm days of spring. Though this winter wasn’t terribly snowy or cold, it did seem long and gray. And finally, spring arrived, only to be met with fear and uncertainty and lockdowns. We have learned a lot over these last months. We have learned how important our friends and family are. We have recognized how important the sun and fresh air are. We may realize that we have taken for granted our ability to just run outside to meet up with friends for a hike, plant sale, community garden effort, or a simple conversation on a beach.

But we have learned, and we have adapted. Most of us recognize the need for some changes and guidelines. Most people understand that we ourselves are responsible for our actions, and that our own actions can have great consequences for others.

Memorial Day has just passed, and we have received many posts and comments about how great it was to have shady trails, sunny benches with lovely views and cool breezes to enjoy. Families have posted photos on Instagram and on Hike Avalonia’s Facebook page. We can tell by full parking lots that many friends, old and new, are out celebrating the great weather and ability to be outdoors. I have truly appreciated the actions and smiling eyes of people I meet on the trails, as we nod, step aside, or get some distance so we can chat.

I am afraid, however, that in some situations, the high hopes for celebration, in combination with the beautiful weather, led to some significant lapses in judgement and behavior. We have had reports of groups of younger people gathering on some of the preserves to sit or enjoy each other’s company, but without masks and distance.
In Stonington on Dodge Paddock and other preserves, guidance is posted for safe interactions.

Some explorations are best done solo.

People and wildlife will find a balance. Photograph by Rick Newton.

Sandy Point this summer

One of our major concerns is Sandy Point. The island is such a special place, for so many reasons. Essentially and foremost it is a wildlife sanctuary. When it was deeded to Avalonia, the main purpose was to protect the nesting birds there, while also allowing the community to continue to share the space. Over many years, the Stonington COMO has provided some stewardship and oversight as they sell, distribute and check for passes required to access the shore. In more recent years, we have developed a great working relationship with the US Fish and Wildlife Service ( USFWS). They have taken on the stewardship and have done an amazing job protecting several species of birds that have suffered major declines over the years. Right now, Sandy Point has the best northeastern population of nesting American Oystercatchers, as well as several pairs of Piping Plovers. The USFWS has also provided education for our visitors. By all accounts, people really have enjoyed their presence and are interested in the care of the preserve and its wildlife.
As the summer ramps up, we know people will want to enjoy the island, but please respect the old rules as well as some of the newer ones.

As before, passes are required for daily or season use. These can be purchased from the COMO website and should be with you while on the island. They are digital so can be kept safely on your phone as well. There will be areas roped off to protect the birds, so please remain outside of them. Dogs are NOT ALLOWED at all on the island, even on leash, to protect the habitat and birds.

This year, however, we need to protect ourselves and each other as well. It is truly important to maintain your physical distance from one another on the beach. Families who live together, or share a family pass, may stay together, but we ask that gatherings of more than 5 people be avoided. Keep yourself and your towel inside of a nice 15 foot circle when with non-family members. No one really wants to wear a mask on the beach, so the best answer is to remain distanced but have it ready and available if you choose to walk. There will be different levels of oversight this year, with USFWS, Avalonia and even police boats making trips out and around the area.

We truly believe that being outside is the safest way to connect with friends and nature. We ask that wherever you are, you think about others who are sharing the same space as you are. We never know what challenges they or their family may be facing. Keeping ourselves safe translates into keeping others safe so that all can benefit from the upcoming summer season, wherever you are.

Enjoy and appreciate the stunning beauty of this season whether you are on a beach, a meadow, or woodland trail.
American oystercatchers usually nest before the busy summer season and are quite successful on Sandy Point. Photograph by Rick Newton.

Eggs lie exposed on a shallow sand nest. Loose dogs and careless footsteps can destroy them in an instant.

A perfect setup for Sandy Point.

This year there will be added wording to suggest safe practices for distancing on the beach.

Please help to protect the fragile habitat at Sandy Point.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan unless otherwise indicated.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this blog with a lot of valuable info!

    This might seem like a silly question but what is the best way to access Sandy Point Island?

    We would love to get a season pass to go with our little ones for day trips this summer of the pandemic and respect all social distancing protocols.

    Wikipedia said Sandy Point Island is "As an island with no dock, Sandy Point can be somewhat difficult to access. The island is most easily reached by kayak or by a boat with a shallow draft. Larger boats can also be taken to the island, but boaters must drop anchor offshore and then row or swim to the beach."