In 1973, the Connecticut General Assembly passed legislation allowing the establishment of the Connecticut River Gateway Commission, a state-local compact, for the protection of the Lower Connecticut River Valley. Decades later, the Connecticut River and its tidelands have been recognized by a succession of local, state, national and international organizations as ecologically important by the Ramsar Treaty, as one of the Western Hemisphere's forty Last Great Placesby The Nature Conservancy, as an American Heritage River and as the Silvio O. Conte US Fish & Wildlife National Refuge. Then, as now, this valley was widely recognized as one of the most important natural, recreational and scenic areas of the State, the northeast, and the United States.
The Gateway Conservation Zone (photo above), which is the geographic focus of the Commission's activities, is some thirty miles in length and includes those portions of the eight member towns (Chester, Deep River, East Haddam, Essex, Haddam, Lyme, Old Lyme, Old Saybrook) lying within view of the river. Throughout the years, it has become an area of interest for a number of other environmental organizations as well. The Nature Conservancy has designated the Connecticut River Tidelands as one of its "Last Great Places"; the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection has obtained the recognition of the river's tidelands as " internationally significant " wetlands under the terms of the international Ramsar Convention; the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Interior has publicly recognized the lower Connecticut River valley as "one of the most important ecological landscapes" in the United States, and in 1999, the River was designated as one of 14 American Heritage Rivers by the President of the United States.