Of the entire coastline, Sherwood Island State Park was the only area designated worthy of a beachfront state park.
And one of the most unique attractions in all of Connecticut deserves a visit, any time of year.
What makes Sherwood Island State Park so unique?
One of the more unique aspects of this CT state park is that it’s an island, as the name implies.
Long Island Sound and Sherwood Mill Pond form the park’s southern and western boundaries, respectively.
Creeks and ditches separate the rest of its 235-acre mass from the mainland.
The most unique aspect of this particular park, however, is the sand.
Most beaches feature cream or white sand, from quartz.
But here, garnet and magnetite add red and black colors, respectively, to the sand. And the waves maintain separate lines of colors on the beach, thanks to the varying density and shape of the different sands.
So the 6,000-foot-long beach, stretching over a mile, is one of the most unique sights in the world, let alone Connecticut.
History of Sherwood Island State Park
The colonial era name for Sherwood Island was Fox Island. I assume there were a lot of foxes roaming the island. Or a man with the last name of Fox lived here.
Either way, a group of Fairfield colonists known as the “Bankside Farmers” settled in the region that included Fox Island in the 1640s.
Sherwood Island in the 1800s
Daniel Sherwood settled on Fox Island in 1787. In the 1800s, his large family ran a gristmill on Mill Pond and farmed the uplands on the west side of the island. Many farmers shared the Machamux salt marsh. Locals were calling it “Sherwood’s Island” by the 1860s. Gallup Gap Creek once ran north and south through the park, close to the center. The creek was later dammed to encourage stronger water flow at the grist mill, creating the massive island we know today.
When the Connecticut State Park Commission was established in 1911, one of its primary responsibilities was to find and create shore parks along Connecticut’s coastline. The field secretary, Albert Turner, walked the coastline in search of suitable locations. His checklist included:
- Several hundred acres of undeveloped land with stunning natural scenery
- Fronting a good beach
- And located far enough from cities to avoid sewage pollution and interference from industrial development
He concluded that Sherwood Island was the only suitable location in Fairfield County.
Many landowners owned portions of the island at the time. The state designated Sherwood Island as one of the first Connecticut state parks in 1914, after Westport farmer and community leader William H. Burr Jr. purchased two small parcels, including a 5-acre strip of beachfront. However, it took another 20 years for the park to gain local support. Various parcels purchased by 1915 totaled 24 acres by deed; though the state owned 30 acres according to a state survey. The park had 23,350 feet of shorefront at the time.
The Battle for Sherwood Island State Park
In 1923, another 18 acres were purchased north of the island for potential parking purposes, but they were not connected to the other 30 acres. Burying Hill Beach in Westport provided some access to the park at the time. At this point, local landowners, led by Edward Gair, persuaded a town meeting to oppose further land acquisitions and park spending, effectively halting park development.
The state legislature rejected the State Parks Commission’s proposal to spend $500,000 on additional park development because lawmakers were hesitant to act without local support. In the meantime, developers bought large portions of the beachfront land. For the next nine years, supporters and opponents debated the issue in Westport and Fairfield County. By 1932, the state had leased additional land in the future park (with a five-year option to buy it), and Sherwood Island State Park officially opened that summer.
On April 29, 1937, Governor Wilbur L. Cross signed two bills appropriating $485,000 for the state to purchase additional land and develop the park, as the lease and option to purchase were about to expire. A combination of:
- Fairfield County Planning Association
- The Connecticut Forestry Association
- And other supporters, including William H. Burr, who became known as the park’s “father.”
Finally won the battle to establish a beach state park in the heart of Fairfield County’s coastline.
Recent history at Sherwood Island State Park
In the 1950s, the United States Army Corps of Engineers constructed jetties and extended the two beaches. In 1959, the state built an Art Deco-inspired pavilion and bathhouse.
The most recent addition to the park was in 2002, when the state added a memorial to the victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
What You’ll Find at Sherwood Island State Park
The beach is the main attraction, but the park also has a variety of other outdoor activities. It’s a great spot for nature walks, fishing, or simply sitting back or eating with a view of the water.
Sherwood Island State Park Beach
If you’re looking for a public beach in Fairfield County to cool off on a hot summer day, you’ve come to the right place. The park has a little more than a mile of beaches fronting Long Island Sound.
At the beach, you’ll find various kiosks with:
- A concession stand
- A picnic shelter
- And picnic tables
The concession stand sells summer beach favorites like ice cream and chicken tenders. It’s a great place to grab a bite to eat while at the beach!
September 11 Memorial
The official memorial for the victims of the tragic events of September 11, 2001, is located here in Connecticut. The main pavilion houses the memorial. You’ll also find a quiet memorial area on the point.
The state chose Sherwood Island for its memorial for a few reasons:
On a clear, sunny day (as on 9/11), you can see the New York City skyline. And on that fateful day and several days after, the community could see the smoke from the Twin Towers.
- The attack also damaged Fairfield County coastal communities, which lost many members in the attack.
The design of the memorial incorporates:
- The strength of granite
- The tranquility of the sea
- And the protective beauty of trees
The 9-foot polished granite stone monument reads,
“The citizens of Connecticut dedicate this living memorial to the thousands of innocent lives lost on September 11, 2001, and to the families who loved them.”
The Sherwood Island Trail is a great way to see the park in a different light. The main trail is a 2.9-mile roundtrip route. You’ll be treated to views of Long Island Sound all along the trail’s shoreline. The wide path is littered with gravel.
There are a few other trails that branch off from the main path. Take the trail away inland from the Nature Center to see the Machamux salt marsh. The marsh is home to:
- And plenty of other marsh life
The marsh has an osprey nest. That said, you’ll need binoculars to see it, as ospreys don’t want to nest near humans.
Hard to blame them, considering the DEET fiasco of the 20th century.
Sherwood Island Nature Center
The Sherwood Island Nature Center is a great destination for kids! The new nature center has a variety of displays and exhibits that highlight the park’s rich diversity of plant and animal life.
The building is located between East Beach and the salt marsh nature trail. With the assistance of interns and docents, the DEEP staff organizes:
- Summertime nature walks
- Bird watching excursions
- And educational events for both adults and children
The Nature Center is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday during certain seasons.
Picnicking at Sherwood Island State Park
Sherwood Island is also an excellent location for a picnic! There are numerous pavilions and picnic tables located throughout the park. The main pavilion is ideal for larger gatherings, with stunning views of the water.
There are additional pavilions along the beach. That said, because they are so close to the beach, they do tend to fill up quickly. After all, the covered picnic areas are convenient if you’re going to the beach with your family in a large group!
If you don’t need cover, you’ll find picnic tables scattered throughout the park, especially towards the western end.
During fishing season, surf and shore fishing is permitted anywhere along the shoreline except in swimming areas from April 15–September 30. The two most popular locations are Sherwood Point and the East Jetty.
On the beach, fishing is permitted during the off-season from 8 a.m. to sunset.
You’ll find the usual suspects of Long Island Sound saltwater fish here:
- Summer flounder
- Winter flounder
- And striped bass
Getting To Sherwood Island State Park
Driving to Sherwood Island State Park is a breeze. Take Exit 18 off of Connecticut Route 95 (I-95) and travel south on the Sherwood Island Connector.
The entrance is only about half a mile from the highway turnoff.
Non-state residents need to pay a parking fee to enter during the busiest time of year. The cost is $15 per car during the week, and $22 on weekends. Enter the park after 4:00 pm to pay much less.
That said, considering the charges for other Connecticut beaches nearby, the parking fee is reasonable.
And if you live in Connecticut, CT vehicles enter free of charge!
When to visit Sherwood Island State Park
While this park is open all year, each season has its unique benefits.
Summer is the ideal time to visit if you want to be splashing around in the water, of course. But to be fair, this is also when everyone and their mom wants to visit Sherwood Island State Park.
I prefer to visit this park every season but the summer. It may be colder, but you’re more likely to have the park to yourself. Or just you and the other walkers.
The few times I visit in the summer, I avoid weekend days here like the plague. The crowds can be overwhelming for this introvert.
Fortunately, there are other nearby beaches between Westport and Greenwich. The parking passes and entrance fees may be higher, but that does have the benefit of limiting the beach crowds.
Or, if you have the time, head further away from New York City to enjoy some of the other top beaches in Connecticut. Hammonasset Beach in Madison, for example, has an even longer beach than Sherwood Island to spread out the crowds. And the long drive to get here can dissuade the masses from making the trek out east.
More unique things to do in CT, after Sherwood Island State Park
Beach days are great, but there’s so much more to do in Fairfield County and Connecticut in general.
Some more noteworthy beaches nearby include:
- Calf Pasture Beach in Norwalk
- Seaside Park in Bridgeport
- Devil’s Den Preserve in Weston
- Centennial Watershed State Forest in Redding
- Mianus River State Park straddling Greenwich & Stamford