March 23, 2013: On Saturday, March 23, 2013, the Connecticut Land Conservation Council held their 29th Annual Connecticut Land Conservation Conference, with this year's installment entitled “Can Open Space be Permanently Protected?” Lapel buttons handed out by CLCC pretty much made the statement that has been on the mind of many open space advocates in the past several years: "Perpetuity, Dammit!" In the wake of some high profile open space "crises" where land thought to be permanently protected almost ended up otherwise, the focus of the conference was clear. How does the conservation community make sure that when land is donated for conservation in perpetuity, legal instruments are available to insure that intent?
Among the many ideas for permanent protection was one asserting that when conservation easements are developed, multiple redundant easements provided to several conservation entities might prove difficult to circumvent, an idea prevously discussed by the Gateway Commission and numerous others. If an easement is provided to the State of Connecticut, for instance, a redundant easement could also be written with the municipal conservation commission or land trust as a benefactor. In this way, numerous easements would have to be circumvented in order to use a parcel of land in a manner that was not intended by the benefactor.
For more information on this year's conference, head to the CLCC website.
Gateway Chairman Melvin Woody
addressed the trip attendees
June 7, 2012: On Thursday evening, June 7th, the Gateway Commission hosted their annual river trip. Along with Captain Mark and Mindy Yuknat, owners of Connecticut River Expeditions and the RiverQuest, the Commission and their guests cruised downriver from Eagle Landing State Park in Haddam to see examples of well-managed development along the river that can be attributed to the success of the Gateway mission to protect the visual quality of the river in the Gateway Conservation Zone. Many may recall that last year's annual cruise was cancelled due to inclement weather that was said to have spawned a tornado within the lower river valley near Old Saybrook. This year's weather was a combination of sunny, cloudy and rainy, which provided an interesting backdrop to the cruise.
Representative Phil Miller listens to GW member
Nancy Fischbach (Deep River) as Marcy Balint
of the CT Department of Energy and Environmental
Protection (left) and GW member Suzanne
Thompson (Old Lyme) (right) listen in
The goal of the annual trip is to have land use practitioners and decision makers from Gateway member towns aboard to show them the fruits of their labor in the Gateway partnership and in the work they do for their individual towns. Using a microphone, Gateway members pointed out great examples of visually-buffered hillside homes and of properties acquired in fee or through conservation easements by Gateway. They pointed out development that, through their visual challenge, resulted in the adoption of new Gateway standards. Members pointed out properties that have historically been the center of public debates with respect to private docks, large homes and protection of river quality through vegetated buffers along the riverfront.
Lyme Inland Wetlands Commission Chairman
Paul Armand (L) makes a point to Lyme Zoning and
Wetlands Enforcement Officer Bernie Gigliotti
This year, the Yuknats were able to point out several eagle nesting sites in trees along the river. Several times, eagles were pointed out to the attendees who used binoculars to get a better look. All the way down river, ospreys circled above. For many, it was a pleasure welcoming Chester 1st Selectman Ed Meehan along as well. During the time of the formation of the Gateway Commission in the early 1970's and through the early 1980's, Meehan was the primary staff of Gateway and was involved in many of the issues and challenges that were faced by the Gateway Commission during its early years. He and current Gateway chair Dr. Melvin Woody worked on many Gateway issues together dating back over 40 years. Their historical perspectives are of great value to those of us who have followed in the mission to protect the "natural and traditional river scene" in the lower Connecticut River.
U. S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar signs
the first National Blueway into law for the Connecticut River
May 24, 2012: In riverfront ceremonies in Hartford on Thursday, May 24, 2012, U. S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar (photo at right by Patrick Raycraft) designated the 410-mile-long Connecticut River as America's first National Blueway, saying restoration and preservation efforts on the river are a model for other American rivers. In designating the Connecticut River as a National Blueway, the almost 40-year mission of the Gateway Commission and the tireless work of many conservation organzations to preserve and protect the character and environment of the lower Connecticut River was validated yet again by this prestigious designation.
The National Blueway designation follows past awards including the American Heritage River designation, TNC's designation of the lower river as "One of 40 Last Great Places in the Western Hemispere", designation of the lower river system as a "Wetland of International Significance" by the Ramsar Treaty, and the designation of the river as the Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in a long line of accolades that celebrate the amazing Connecticut River.
During the ceremony, Secretary Salazar said that "...most people didn't awake to the possibilities of the restoration of rivers and what they meant to the environment and to the economy and young people and health until very recently," he told reporters at the conclusions of the ceremonies. "The people who live along the Connecticut watershed started waking up to this possibility half a century ago." That certainly is true of the Gateway Commission and its efforts.
Most are aware that the visual protection of the lower river from Haddam and East Haddam south to the mouth of the river at Long Island Sound by the Gateway Commission came - ironically - out of a failed federal effort to establish a National Park system in the Connecticut River at four locations from the Canada to Connecticut, including the area here in the lower river. Although those in the lower Connecticut River discarded the idea of creating a national park, they embraced the conservation portion of the federal proposal and, as a result, in 1973 created the Gateway compact to achieve that end. Some, unfortunately, forget or are unaware of that history and how important Gateway was and continues to be to the visual character of the lower Connecticut River.
Most acknowledge the important role that the Gateway Commission has and will continue to play in the protection of this resource that has, again, been recognized on a national level. A small non-representative number, however, seem to have the opinion that the efforts of Gateway to "preserve and protect the character of the riverscene" aren't needed, usurp the rights of private property owners and therefore should be ignored. What they forget is that residents in each and every town in the four decade partnership voted to participate in the protective covenant because they didn't want their lower river valley to be overrun by out-of-character development. Thank goodness our land use forefathers didn't feel that way! And, thankfully, the majority of lower river residents continue to embrace the protective mission of the Gateway Commission! The Gateway partnership is alive and strong and ready to move on to their next 40 years!
March 28, 2012: A 2011 report funded by the Connecticut Yankee Atomic Power Company, entitled "Past Communities of Lower Haddam Neck, Connecticut: The Salmon River Cove Archaeological District" has been produced and is now available online. The seven-year project was guided by, among others, former Staff Archaeologist Dr. David Poirier and Staff Archaeologist Daniel Forrest, both of the State Historic Preservation Office , and Dr. Nicholas Bellantoni, the Connecticut State Archaeologist. The site of the archaeological surveys is the 582 acre parcel located within the Gateway Conservation Zone at the south end of the Haddam Neck peninsula in the Town of Haddam, the former home of the Connecticut Yankee Atomic Power Plant. Following years of providing electricity, the first atomic power plant in the Northeast was decommissioned with the reactor being taken away on a river-borne barge. The spent fuel rods, however, remain on the site in dry cask storage.
As a part of the federal regulatory review process surrounding the decommissioning, the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) required a comprehensive historic and archaeological survey of the Connecticut Yankee property in order to professionally identify and evaluate archaeological resources for their potential eligibility for the National Register of Historic Places. Another goal was to develop and implement appropriate management alternatives ranging from intensive archaeological excavations to in situ preservation. In essence, the SHPO mandated a large-scale archaeology study of the Lower Haddam Neck district overlooking the Salmon River.
The importance of the Connecticut and Salmon Rivers to local communities was multi-fold. In addition to providing a plentiful food source, the rivers facilitated travel, providing Indian peoples an alternative to traversing the irregular and sometimes rugged topography of the lower Connecticut Valley. The river served as a corridor for trade and communication with other indigenous communities.
In summary, the 582 acre CY property historically contained a broad mix of land forms, water sources, vegetation types, and wildlife that supplied life-sustaining resources for its human inhabitants. Ecologically, retaining this land in an undeveloped state is of prime importance to the ecology of the lower river valley and to the Gateway Conservation Zone and the Gateway preservation mission in an especially sensitive environmental area. All of this value and interest doesn't even take into account the rich history of an early inhabitant, Venture Smith, a slave thought to be the son of King Dukandarra , in Guinea, West Africa, who bought his own freedom and became a business success in the lower river valley.
February 13, 2012: A report from the National Audubon Society says that the Department of the Interior is poised to release federal guidelines that represent a significant step forward for the proper siting of wind power projects nationwide. The draft guidelines (which in this document includes comments and corrections by reviewers) will set a new standard and expectation of wildlife protection for wind development in the United States, and give the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service a more meaningful role in the review of wind power projects. The accompanying photos show two industrial-sized wind turbines (right) and a smaller residential-scale wind turbine (below).
For three years, conservation experts from National Audubon Society and other conservation organizations (including Defenders of Wildlife, The Nature Conservancy, and Bat Conservation International) worked with wind industry
representatives, state fish and wildlife agencies, and other experts on a 22-member Wind Turbine Guidelines Advisory Committee to advise the Secretary of Interior on the best way to create a balanced, science-based approach to reducing the impacts of wind turbines on birds, bats, and wildlife habitat.
The guidelines represent a consensus approach that will use the best scientific methods, address the most significant impacts of wind, and be practically implementable on the ground. They would steer wind turbines away from major bird flyways and vital habitat toward land already designated for development
, which would have a significant impact on whether or not wind power is appropriate in the Gateway Conservation Zone, at least based upon ecological considerations (the question is also asked, are wind turbines consistent with the "natural and traditional riverway scene"?). The guidelines also help ensure higher standards of scientific review and more significant efforts to avoid, minimize, and mitigate impacts at sites with high potential risk for birds. And they create a process for analyzing and minimizing the fragmentation of habitat created when wind projects are built in the midst of sensitive wildlife areas.
To expand on the comment above, the lower Connecticut River valley is an important movement corridor for migratory birds, especially waterfowl, rails, many species of Neotropical migrants, and raptors, that annually use this area during the spring and fall migration periods as a migration pathway north or south through the region en route to breeding or wintering grounds. Many bird species also nest in the lower river area or spend the winter in the marshes. Some species, such as the American black duck, use the lower Connecticut River as breeding, wintering, and migration areas.
The Connecticut River valley is also an important navigation and migratory stopover for numerous waterfowl, wading birds, and shorebirds. Within the area itself, the combination of diverse and abundant wetland types, extensive intertidal flats, a wide range of salinity gradients, and relatively low human disturbance attracts a high diversity and substantial number of waterbirds. The abundance of wild rice marshes in the project area provides an especially important food resource for waterfowl and rails.
The lower river regularly supports over 10,000 individuals, principally wintering birds, consisting of 18 species of waterfowl, including dabbling ducks, diving ducks, mergansers, and geese. The primary waterfowl that use this area, listed in decreasing order of abundance, are: American black duck (photo at right), mallard (A. platyrhynchos), blue-winged teal (A. discors), and green-winged teal (A. crecca). The area is especially important for American black duck. During the migration and wintering periods, the most important habitats for black ducks in southern New England are the tidal wetlands of the Connecticut River and tidal wetlands, bays, and mudflats along the coast (Merola and Chasko, 1989). Black ducks originating in Canada and northern New England rest and feed here during migration. The river provides open-water wintering habitat at a time when much of the inland freshwater areas are frozen over. The Connecticut River wetlands have been identified as regionally important black duck habitat under the North American Waterfowl Mangement Plan.
These guidelines and the cautions they provide in terms of locating substantial wind turbines within an important migratory flyway like the lower Connecticut River may have an impact on Gateway policies regarding alternate sources of power along the river. The question must be asked: Is solar or other alternate forms of power more suited for the lower Connecticut River valley than wind power? The Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge Neotropical Migrant Bird Stopover Habitat Survey provides a good primer regarding the migration of birds during the summer and winter. For more information, visit the Fish and Wildlife Service wind energy website and the National Audobon Society's energy siting website.
January 20, 2012: Admittedly, discussion of worldwide oil production is a little outside of the realm of issues confronting us within the Gateway Conservation Zone and the lower Connecticut River, or at least outside of the "news" that we usually write about in this section of the Gateway website. Those of us who work for and with the Gateway Commission and pursue the mission of protection and preservation of the visual quality of the lower river are conservationists at heart, and conservation extends to the use of our natural resources - including oil. Although not directly related to our conservation efforts here in the lower river, the issue of oil conservation and the impacts of dwindling worldwide oil resources is of great importance to all of us.
The report of the Austrailian Government's Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government presents a summary of worldwide oil production and describes a plateauing of oil production and a falloff starting around 2016 or 2017. Logically speaking, oil production follows closely upon the heels of oil exploration and discovery, which many have said has been steadily falling off in recent years. The politics of oil production are interesting as well; China is looking more toward proactively developing relationships with oil-exporting countries around the world, including those in the Middle East, this due to the fact that China is now an oil importer due the tremendous pace of their growing economy. Oil-based political alliances will continue to impact us until the global community finds its way to alternative energy sources.
In the lower river valley and elsewhere, we are seeing more and more individual efforts to conserve resources such heating oil. Solar panel installations (photo at left) are becoming more common as are residential wind turbines (photo below). Although there has been discussion of several large, "industrial-size" wind turbines within one Gateway town, that has not come to pass. That possibility had many asking if wind turbines would be consistent with the "natural and traditional riverway scene" in the lower river. Several have been installed around Connecticut, including a highly visible installation adjacent to New Haven Harbor and the Q-Bridge. As petroleum resources continue to decline, we will see more of these technologies in our area.
And then there is the issue of climate change and sea level rise. Although significant sea level inundation won't impact us during our lifetime, there are efforts afoot to inform our state, regional and local governments to start planning now. The Nature Conservancy's Coastal Resilience project embodies one such effort. Because sea level rise is perceived as a long-term problem (50 to 100 years), it's difficult to get leaders to consider spending funds during tight budget times to plan for eventualities that are decades off in the future.
We are all thinking "conservation" nowadays. We need to think "greener" and be more proactive in our efforts. In the meantime, we'll continue to enjoy the beauty of the lower Connecticut River and the efforts to preserve its beauty through the missions of the Gateway Commission and other conservation partners.
January 6, 2012: For the property owners and contractors who conduct the environmentally sensitive work that takes place in the tidal waters of the state, the period between November and March is especially important. It is during this time that environmental sensitivities are at their lowest, so it's the period that work such as dredging and pile-driving is authorized by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. During other times of the year, the Department is protecting spawning and migrating fish, spawning shellfish and the migrating and nesting of birds and other ecologically special flora and fauna from the adverse impacts of the sometimes disruptive in-water activities. This November to March "window" is the only opportunity for significant in-water upgrade activity.
In the photo at left, a contractor working for the Saybrook Point Hotel and Marina is driving pilings within the marina's Connecticut River boat basin. The hotel and marina are located in one of the most visible areas of the Gateway Conservation Zone and, along with the Between the Bridges facility a mile to the north, represent one of two largest single developments within the entire eight town Conservation Zone. As for marina work, environmental laws allow facilities like SPM to replace up to 1/3 of their pilings as "routine maintenance". In such cases, the property owner has only to notify the Department that such work will be conducted. Lengthy permit reviews are not necessary.
Saybrook Point Hotel and Marina has garnered many awards in its twenty year history. From the environmental standpoint, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (then the Department of Environmental Protection) awarded the facility the first "Clean Marina" recognition in 2003 and has awarded them the recognition every year since. The marina has also won awards including the "Five Bell Rating" from the Atlantic Cruising Club (an award that takes into account environmental stewardship in addition to service and amenities), the 2007 National Marina of the Year awarded by Marina Dock Age, a 2006 award that designated the marina and hotel as one of the 10 greatest places to "dock and dine" by Power and Motor Yacht publications and the 2008 and 2009 "Best Marina" and 2011 "Best Hotel Dining" awards from Connecticut Magazine. The Tagliatela family, owners of the facility, take great pride in their awards, but they take particular pride in their environmental stewardship here at the mouth of the lower Connecticut River and within the Gateway Conservation Zone.
When originally constructed in the late 1980's, the Gateway Commission had concerns over the measured height of the hotel. Some thought that it exceeded the 35 foot maximum established in Gateway standards and in the Old Saybrook Zoning Regulations. Despite that original concern, in all of the various ongoing phases of development at the Saybrook Point site, structure designs complied with the standards of the Gateway Commission. At all turns, the Tagliatelas and their design consultants made every effort to seek the advice of the Gateway Commission and have designed the facility accordingly. In many ways, the Saybrook Point Hotel and Marina is a model citizen within the Gateway Conservation Zone and in the much acclaimed lower Connecticut River.
December 30, 2011: As we close out 2011, it's appropriate to look back on some of the events of the year from the perspective of the Gateway Commission and their mission to preserve and protect the natural and traditional riverway scene in the lower Connecticut River. It was an important year in many respects for positive and not so positive reasons. The following three high priority issues took much of the Commission's time and resources during the 2011 calendar year:
The Haddam Land Swap. At the top of the list of issues that faced the Commission is the Haddam Land Swap. Readers will recall that, through special legislation proposed by Senator Eileen Daily, the General Assembly and the Governor approved the conveyance of 17 acres of state-owned conservation land located close to the Connecticut River in Haddam to a private developer in return for receiving a large parcel of land located adjacent to Cockaponsett State Forest. Although the forest parcel is five times the size of the 17 acre conservation land, the Gateway Commission saw the smaller piece located on a hillside next to the Goodspeed Bridge as a key piece in the battle to preserve the undeveloped nature of the lower Connecticut River. In a larger sense, the overall concern on the part of the conservation community is the precedent set by conveying land, purchased by the State of Connecticut specifically for conservation purposes, to a private developer. The backlash includes statements by numerous owners of signficant natural parcels of land that say that they'll never deed land to the State for fear of the land being conveyed to developers at the whim of the General Assembly.
As we close out the year, the appraisers who have been given the task of valuing the two parcels involved in the conveyance are finishing their work. That information will be provided to the State Property Review Board which is charged with insuring that the State is getting equal or greater value from the parcel that they're receiving in trade for the parcel they're conveying to the private developers. As one appraiser commented, this conveyance and the appraisal work that he was engaged in doing was the most unusual thing he's seen in his 25 years of work. Although the way the conveyance occurred was most extraordinary, he said, his job was to appraise and not to question. Gateway, committed to working with their member town Haddam on any development that may occur as a result of the conveyance, awaits the outcome of the process which includes local rezoning of the Tylerville area of Haddam.
Marina Village, Old Saybrook. Although having dealt with this riverfront development project over a several year period, the property owners proposing the redevelopment of the "Between the Bridges" marina complex were able to get their approvals for their project during the 2011 calendar year. Although the marina portion of the facility will remain essentially unchanged (although aesthetically upgraded), the developer will be building 90 new units of upscale housing that includes 27 units of "affordable housing" on both the riverfront and non-riverfront sides of Ferry Road. Make no mistake, the "affordable" units will still be quite expensive, although not nearly as much as the "at market" units. By applying under statutes governing affordable housing applications, the developer was able to take advantage of the fact that they don't have to abide by the zoning regulations that apply to the underlying property.
Affordable housing projects often include structures that are larger and higher than the zoning regulations would normally allow, this in return for setting aside at least one third of the housing units as "affordable" according to a State definition. The larger higher structures allow for more units, thereby offsetting the loss of revenue that occurs for the affordable units when sold. At this site, the riverfront residential units will be built on a street-level platform which renders the structures almost 50feet high as seen from the river. Gateway standards contained in the Old Saybrook Zoning Regulations, under a non-affordable housing application, would only permit a total height of 35 feet. The residential units on the western side of Ferry Road (not on the riverfront) will essentially be 35 feet in height.
In that the development is located within a highly visible portion of the Gateway Conservation Zone, Gateway had an important role in the application process. Numerous discussions and site visits, including viewing the facility from a boat, occurred so that Gateway Commission members could fully understand and explain their objectives in minimizing the visual impacts of what would be large riverfront structures. Gateway, statutes provide, has the last say on the adoption of any regulations that impact property in the Conservation Zone. The proposed regulations that allowed this new development were subject to that Gateway review. In the end, although the new development will be slightly larger than what exists on the site at present, Gateway's opinion was that the new development will be (1) in character with traditional design in the lower river, (2) offers a signficant improvement over the decades-old development that exists on-site at present, and (3) generally upgrades the character of the river in that location. As a result, the Gateway Commission "approved" the Old Saybrook Zoning Commission's adoption of the proposed zoning regulations, paving the way for reconstruction at the site. Most acknowledge that the decisions made by the Zoning Commission and the Gateway Commission were thought to be a "win-win" for the town, the developer and the river scene.
The Adoption of 2004 Gateway Standards in Essex. After seven years of little progress, the Essex Zoning Commission held an informational meeting on December 19, 2011 to solicit input from the public on the adoption of standards that the other seven Gateway member towns had adopted as far back as 2004. With Essex Gateway representative Tony Chirico being the communication conduit, Zoning Chairman Al Wolfgram agreed to move forward with discussions. Although there has been no consensus on how or when the Zoning Commission will move forward with the adoption of the standards, having a public discussion on the issue is a giant step in the right direction. Although a vocal minority expressed the opinion that such protections "aren't needed" and that Essex didn't have to go along with the other seven member towns because Essex is "special", it's thought that the majority would likely want to see Essex step up to their Gateway responsibilities and adopt the 2004 standards like their river "colleagues". Such responsibilities include preservation of their shores for their own residents as well as those living in Lyme and Old Lyme across the river.
November 30, 2011: At 7:30pm on Monday, December 19th, 2011, the Essex Zoning Commission will convene a public hearing to consider the adoption of the 2004 amended Gateway standards. Although almost seven years following the adoption of the standards by the Gateway Commission, Gateway members are pleased that the Zoning Commission has gotten to the point of adopting the new standards. Essex will be the eighth and final Gateway member town to adopt the standards.
As most know, the Gateway zoning standards are adopted to manage the visual impact of development - primarily residential in nature - on the "natural and traditional riverway scene". The 2004 standards include the requirement for a local Zoning Commission to conduct a Special Exception hearing for structures in excess of 4,000 square feet, a structure setback of 100 feet from the river where 50 feet used to be required, a new riparian buffer of 50 feet designed to protect the river's water quality, and a structure height requirement that limits the height of structures as seen from the river. All of these standards were designed to preserve and protect the visual quality of the river scene consistent with the almost 40 year mission of the Gateway Commission.
The Gateway compact, established in 1973, is based upon a collaborative relationship with the zoning authorities in the eight Gateway member towns. State statutes authorize Gateway to establish zoning standards that are to be "promptly" adopted into local regulations by their member towns. Because of the collaborative nature of the protective mission, the Gateway Commission has been reluctant to be "heavy-handed" when it came to standards adoption. For this reason, the Gateway Commission has sought during the intervening seven years to have their various Essex representatives conduct internal discussions with the powers-that-be rather than to create any sort of adversarial relationship. Until recently, that strategy hadn't worked. As for the local Zoning Commission, there have been members who felt that they don't need any more standards in their regulations; they felt that they were doing just fine without more regulations. Others in town, however, have felt that the Zoning Commission should adopt the newest standards just as the other seven member towns have. Lately, such groups have included the everpresent Essex Garden Club and the Essex Conservation Commission. Most express surprise that Essex has lagged behind in adoption of the standards.
Whatever the reason for not adopting the newest standards in a "prompt" manner, the Gateway Commission greatly appreciates that the issue has gotten to the point of a public hearing with the likely adoption of the new standards.
For those interested in supporting the adoption of the 2004 standards, testimony can be submitted to the Essex Zoning Commission in person or by mail. Since the Gateway Commission operates on a regional scale, it is appropriate that testimony come from citizens in any of the eight lower river member towns The address is Essex Zoning Commission, 29 West Avenue, Essex, Connecticut 06426. The public hearing commences on Thursday, December 19, 2011.
November 23, 2011: The Eight Mile River, where it flows into the Connecticut River, is known as Hamburg Cove. In this particularly desirable area of the Gateway Conservation Zone, one can find many larger homes with many varying designs. Most designs seem to "fit" into the character of the area while some are less typical. One thing they all have in common, however, is that they're located on steep hillsides which plunge at steep angles into the cove below. For the most part, the hillsides have remained covered with visually-buffering trees.
The photographs shown within this report were taken within the inner portion of Hamburg Cove in the area delineated by the red circle in the aerial photo above (the main stem of the Connecticut River is located in the lower left). In this inner area, many of the homes have been built to blend into the hillsides and, for the most part, have been finished with materials and colors that mute the appearance of the structures, consistent with the mission of the Gateway Commission. The photo at right shows two of the hillside houses that are finished in dark colors. The trees on the cove slope have been left primarily intact. Although there are many structures that have been built with the same care toward not having them stand out, there are several within the outer portion of the cove that many feel could have been hidden or visually buffered to a greater degree then they were.
The Town of Lyme has very little land zoned for commerical use. In fact, the limited non-residential zoned area is located around the periphery of Hamburg Cove. The photograph above shows a portion of the limited marine development that is located within the inner cove area.
Camp Claire, an almost 100 year old camp established for kids, sits atop a bluff in the inner portion of Hamburg Cove as well. As stated on the Camp Claire website, "...since 1916, Camp Claire has offered a superior summer program for young people. We provide wonderful opportunities for children to grow, laugh, make new friends, and learn new worlds. Camp Claire is a positive nurturing environment that encourages curiosity and creativity, increases self-esteem, while providing a lifetime of memories. Campers are individually challenged and supported to enjoy life, create, and stretch to their fullest potentials...". The camp structures, small and dark in color, fit beautifully into the Conservation Zone. Of course, the camp preceeded the establishment of the Gateway Commission and its mission by almost 60 years at a time when houses were, for the most part, more modest in size and design. If the Camp Claire property were ever to be expanded or redeveloped, new construction would have to conform to the standards of the Gateway Commission found in the Lyme Zoning Regulations.
The photo below left, taken sometime in the past, shows campers lined up in front of their tents. Today, the camp includes a lodge and numerous outbuildings where campers sleep, eat and congregate. Down at cove level is a structure with an elevated porch which sits next to a small ramp used to launch the camp's canoes, kayaks and small sailboats (photo below right). One can only imagine the fun that children have attending Camp Claire.
November 3, 2011: As we move from the summer into the fall, much of the recreational use of the Connecticut River fades for another season, at least in terms of recreational boating. By this time, local marinas are essentially empty with boat owners having hauled their boats out for winter storage. Moored boats, once tied off with many other vessels, sit amongst empty moorings, emphasizing the quieter indoor times ahead. The morning photograph at left is a view downriver toward Old Saybrook, taken from the docks of the Connecticut River Museum.
The photo at right shows the juxtaposition of two vessels: the nearer historic schooner Mary E anchored off the Connecticut River Museum, which will be less active in coming months, and a far-off dredging vessel tied off to a marina dock (photo below), preparing to begin its off-season work keeping the Village's marinas, harbors and channels clear of constantly accumulated silt. The off-season, between November and the succeeding March, is when Federal and State environmental policies and laws allow local waterfront businesses to do much of their inwater upkeep - especially dredging - so that the recreational boating industry can thrive during the summer months.
A CT Department of Transportation summer boat counting project, conducted by Gateway Commission sister agency CRERPA, suggests that the 2011 summer boating season was off by as much as 35% in the lower Connecticut River. The drop-off, signaled by the counting of the number of boats passing through the Connecticut River Railroad Drawbridge and compared to last summer's totals, is thought to be primarily due to the high cost of fuel that existed throughout the summertime months. In that most of the marinas continue to be 90 to 95% occupied - as was the case in 2010 - its thought that boaters tended to stay close to home and even stayed at their slips for much of the summer. Although less significant in overall boat number impact, the last week of summer - including Labor Day Weekend - saw dramatically reduced boat numbers in the Connecticut River due to the mud and debris existing in the river as a result of Tropical Storm Irene.
The photograph at right, taken through the furled sails of the schooner Mary E, sits by itself among empty moorings just northeast of the Museum. The treed hillsides across the river are located within the Conservation Zone Town of Lyme. Although a few boat owners live in their boats year-round, most do not. Recent environmental laws prohibiting the dumping of waste into the waters of the Connecticut River and Long Island Sound encourage those who live aboard to tie off at marinas where waste pumping facilities are available for public use at a nominal charge.
October 25, 2011: Just days before the release of a 50-state " America's Great Outdoors Initiative " report outlining some of the country's most promising ways to reconnect Americans to the natural world, Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar highlighted two projects in Connecticut that will be included in President Obama's final report. The 100 choices, two per state, represent what each state believes are among the best investments in the nation to support a healthy, active population, conserve wildlife and working lands, and create travel, tourism and outdoor-recreation jobs across the country. The report is the result of 50 meetings with governors and stakeholders held by Salazar and other senior Interior officials to solicit ideas on how to best implement "America's Great Outdoors" initiative in each state.
The two areas in Connecticut include the Connecticut River, which is to be established as a "National Blueway", and the Naugatuck River. In his comments, Salazar identified the Connecticut River as the centerpiece of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge existing throughout the entire Connecticut River watershed. The watershed also includes numerous federally-designated Wild and Scenic Rivers such as the Eight Mile River which flows into the Connecticut through Hamburg Cove in Lyme.
Salazar was quoted as saying that, despite the success in developing varied recreational opportunities on the Connecticut River, there is still a need for more access points for water-based recreation and to draw citizens to the river. The goal is to continue to support local efforts to enhance river access. The state envisions new launch sites for canoes and kayaks, more trails along the river and its major tributaries (including the Salmon River which flows into the Connecticut River in Haddam/East Haddam), added camping areas, hosting public events, and making further investments in open space near the river. Holding title in fee to the 36 acre Mount Tom "Klar" parcel in East Haddam (shown in red below) - which has substantial frontage on the Moodus River which feeds to the Salmon River - the Gateway Commission would seem to have an important voice in the AMO process as it moves forward.
Interestingly, the Connecticut River Gateway Conservation Zone and the Gateway Commission came into being in 1973 as a reaction to a unsuccessful Federal proposal to establish a national park in four areas along the Connecticut River from Canada to the mouth at Long Island Sound. The National Park, sponsored by Senators Abraham Ribicoff and Ted Kennedy and envisioned to be similar to the Cape Cod National Seashore Park in Massachusetts, was to have recreational and conservation components. Of concern to many in the four New England states within which the park would exist was the federal power that could be exerted in each of the states. The federal proposal included language which would require that each of the areas, including the "Gateway Unit" in the lower river, have zoning regulations consistent with standards developed by the federal government. The Secretary of the Interior also had power to "take" property for the purposes of developing the park. What residents in the lower river valley feared the most was (1) the loss of their local control to the federal government and (2) the overwhelming of area roadways with what could be tens of thousands of park visitors. Such consequences, they said, would destroy the unique character of the area, the exact thing the National Park was to celebrate.
It was then that State Senator Peter Cashman introduced a bill in the Connecticut General Assembly to establish the Gateway Conservation Zone and Gateway Commission to embrace the conservation portion of the federal proposal but eliminate the recreational component. And thus the Gateway Commission and mission of preservation was born in 1973.
September 19, 2011: A remarkable phenomenon that occurs in the lower Connecticut River this time of year is the migration of tree swallows. Just about every night around sunset, one can witness tens of thousands of the little birds as they congregate off a lower river town's shoreline. They are said to fly in every night from upwards of 50 miles away to roost in the Phragmites grasses. The three photos at left and below are successively darker due to the waning of the evening light.
The tree swallow spectacle has become quite popular with conservationists and tourists alike. If you don't have access to a boat, a kayak or canoe, there are specific cruises on the Riverquest ecological tour boat out of Haddam that will allow you to see the swallows for yourself. The picture at left shows the numerous respectful witnesses to the phenomenon of the roosting swallows. A few "late-coming" swallows can be seen in the sky above the boaters and skimming the water as they head toward the roosting island out of the photo to the right.
In another view of the swallows, a lone kayaker watches the cloud of swallows moving as one above the Phargmites below. Although not completely understood, there appears to be a leader or leaders amongst the swallows whom all others follow. The swallows will be flying a hundred feet or so above the island and then the whole mass of birds descends into the grasses below in a manner that almost looks like a tornado of birds. They'll fly up again and do the same thing over and over several times before finally retiring for the night.
The tree swallow phenomenon occurs from about late August through early October prior to the final southerly migration of the swallows. To learn about the tree swallow "ballet" and have an opportunity to see the spectacle for yourself, check out Connecticut River Expeditions and the Riverquest tours out of Haddam. Captain Mark Yuknat can be reached at 860-662-0577.
September 9, 2011: The extensive Connecticut River sediment plume as seen in a September 2, 2011 satellite photo on the NASA website. Notice that the Thames River to the east (right) of the Connecticut River has not been noticably impacted by suspended sediments caused by the rains and upstream erosion. Of course, the Thames River watershed is a fraction of that of the Connecticut River which extends 410 miles to the Canadian border. Also notice that the predominant tidal current is from east to west (right to left) as shown by the direction of the flow of waters of both the Connecticut and Thames Rivers. Long Island is seen at bottom center while Fisher's Island is seen at center right. For a better look at the image, go to the Gateway Commission's Facebook page and click to enlarge.
September 8, 2011: Twelve days following the passing of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene, the lower Connecticut River is still running muddy and high, as can be seen in the 9/8/11 photograph at right. The picture shows the Connecticut River as seen from the Old Saybrook side of the I-95 Baldwin Bridge as one looks northeast toward the Town of Old Lyme. Oak Leaf Marina is seen in the foreground. The recent passing of the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee have also contributed quite a bit of rain to the rivers of the state as well, including the Connecticut River. What is clear is that, since the passing of Irene and now the remnants of Lee, recreational boating in the lower river has all but come to a halt. Many boaters who had removed their boats from the water prior to Irene have, for the most part, not relaunched their boats. For some, it means that the 2011 boating season has all but ended. Others, however, will still put their boats back in once the river settles down and the substantial amount of debris floating through is gone.
August 27, 2011: On Saturday, August 27, 2011, Hurricane Irene made landfall in the Greenwich area of Connecticut, approximately 80 miles to the west of the Connecticut River. Within the Gateway Conservation Zone, the most significant impact was likely the damaged trees and downed powerlines that will have left the area without power for upwards of two weeks. As a result of the combination of the hurricane storm surge and all the rain that dropped within the massive Connecticut River watershed, the water elevation in the Connecticut River increased to levels not seen in over twenty years. The river itself was filled with debris including massive trees and logs and just about anything else one can image. In addition, the sediment load increased to the point that the river was running muddy with a plume that could seen well out into Long Island Sound.
In the photo above, taken in within the Borough of Fenwick and within the Gateway Conservation Zone of Old Saybrook, the level to which the river flooded can be seen in the discolored grass next to the driveway at left. The marshes surrounding the river at right were completely inundated as was the South Cove Causeway seen to the right in the distance.
In the photo below, taken in the Borough of Fenwick looking north up-river past Saybrook Point in the left distance with Old Lyme in the center distance, the flooding river produced a debris "strand line" marking the highest extent of flooding, seen at right. The storm surge of Irene was said to be upwards of five to six feet above the high tide that occurred at about 10:30am that morning.
Because of all of the rain dropped throughout New England and within the Connecticut River watershed in particular, the elevation of the river is still quite high. What is most notable, however, is the amount of debris which has washed down from Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and the upper reaches of Connecticut. Due to all of the erosion which has occurred throughout it's 410 mile length, the river is carrying an exceptionally large load of suspended sediment which has the river appear almost like milk chocolate. The August 31st aerial photograph taken above the mouth of the Connecticut River seen above was taken by Tim Cook of the New London Day. The tremendous upstream sediment load caused by the torrential rains of Tropical Storm Irene is clearly seen at the end of the Saybrook jetties and Saybrook Outer Light. The river is flowing from right to left into Long Island Sound.
August 23 and 24, 2011: The scenery in the lower Connecticut River within the Gateway Conservation Zone, at times, is overwhelming in its natural and preserved beauty. In various areas, the beauty of the historical features within the lower river often rival the incredible natural beauty. In other areas, the two scenes compliment each other like in this photograph, taken just north of the Deep River Town Landing. Here, the Essex Steam Train is making its way up the western shore of the Connecticut on one of its tourist runs from its home in the Centerbrook area of Essex. To the far left in the distance is Selden Island in Lyme, Connecticut's largest island. The island beyond the two moored sailboats at center is Eustasia Island, owned by the family of Rear Admiral Irwin "Mike" Chase, Jr., who was a member of the Gateway Commission for 23 years. As an historical note, Rear Admiral Chase was aboard the U.S.S. Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2nd, 1945 when Japan surrendered to the United States to end World War II. Rear Admiral Chase, who lived his entire life in Deep River, is buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.
The I-95 Raymond Baldwin Bridge, seen at right, is located within the Gateway Conservation Zone between Old Saybrook and Old Lyme and, along with the Between the Bridges Marina, the DEP's Ferry Landing facility and the Amtrak Railroad Bridge, marks one of the most densely developed area within the Conservation Zone. Since 1911, there have always been two bridges spanning the river in this location. This photograph was taken on August 24, 2011 and shows participants in an antique automobile parade celebrating the 100th anniversary of the opening of the first automobile bridge connecting Old Saybrook to Old Lyme. Although the Connecticut River railroad crossing had been completed several decades earlier, 1911 was the first time that autombiles could cross the Connecticut River in this location without having to utilize the small ferry boats that carried them back and forth between Ferry Point in Old Saybrook and Ferry Landing in Old Lyme.
August 12, 2011: On a particularly clear and sunny August day, the Connecticut River within the Gateway Conservation Zone provides a beautiful backdrop to this wonderful, lush garden and natural lawn on the riverfront in Essex. The Brockway Ferry area of Deep River is to the left in the photo while the hillsides of Lyme are visible across the river. This scene may not be too different from what might have been seen 150 or 200 years ago! It's this type of "natural and traditional riverway scene" that the Gateway Commission strives to preserve for "present and future Connecticut citizens."
There are numerous areas where you can capture a glimpse of the beautiful Connecticut River in the Gateway Conservation Zone. One particularly nice area for views is the hillside above the river on River Road in Essex and Deep River. The elevation of River Road provides raised views in a number of spots, including this view looking north toward Chester and Lyme (photo at right). Recreational boating is at its height in August as can be seen in this shot taken on a Thursday morning. Public spots to view the river in this general area include the CT River Museum and the end of Main Street in Essex Village, the Essex Village park on Middle Cove (there's a kayak launch dock there), the Town Landing and the Essex Street bridge over Pratt Cove in Deep River, and the Chester Ferry Dock in Chester. Across the river from Deep River Town Landing is Selden Island, the largest island in the State of Connecticut and which is owned and managed by the DEEP. With a permit from DEEP, you can camp on parts of Selden Island.