Looking out across the beautiful Sandy Point Beach & Bird Sanctuary, it’s hard to believe the area was once a community eyesore.
Located at the mouth of the New Haven Harbor on the Long Island Sound in West Haven, Connecticut, the property was riddled with trash, invasive plant species, and overgrown brush. But thanks to the efforts of caring citizens and City of West Haven officials, today Sandy Point is a vibrant, picturesque sanctuary with diverse, interconnected ecosystems that include a barrier beach, tidal creek and marsh, and mudflats.
Thanks to nearly two decades of dedicated efforts to make their entire shoreline a place where vulnerable birds can thrive, Audubon is proud to present the City of West Haven with our first-ever Share the Shore Award!
Let's take a look back at some of the amazing work led by city officials and local volunteers.
2003 | Sandy Point is recognized as an Important Bird Area
West Haven residents Lee and Marion Aimsbury nominated, and Audubon Connecticut recognized, Sandy Point as an Important Bird Area, critical to nesting Piping Plovers, Least Terns, and American Oystercatchers, hundreds of migrating Semipalmated Sandpiper, and a large variety of other shorebirds and waterfowl.
This barrier beach also helps protects the City of West Haven and its residents from coastal storms.
Your town or city can "Share the Shore" with birds too! Ask them to join our #ShareTheShore movement here.
2005 | The City takes notice and begins making improvements
Officials from the City first become aware of this gem and begin taking baby steps to improve the site for birds and residents. West Haven Director of Parks Mark Paine Jr. notes, “We started with the smaller, manageable projects while remaining conscious of larger projects so that when resources became available, we could act!”
2009 | New tide gates for Old Field Creek improve foraging habitat for birds downstream
Working with the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), Department of Transportation, and the Environmental Protection Agency, the City replaces the tide gates on Old Field Creek, allowing saltwater to flow into the marsh upstream of the tide gate, in turn improving foraging habitat for birds downstream.
2011 and 2012 | Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy bring the community together
Hurricane Irene strikes West Haven, flooding the basements of residents in the vicinity of Sandy Point. In 2012, basements are flooded again by Superstorm Sandy. Residents come together, forming the West Haven Watershed Restoration Committee (WHWRC) and work with the City to apply to FEMA for funding for buyouts.
2012 | Audubon helps identify ways that local residents can take steps to improve Sandy Point
Audubon begins work on an IBA Conservation Plan for Sandy Point. During development of the plan, Audubon reaches out to the City and the West Haven Watershed Restoration Committee. Interest in Sandy Point and the birds it supports increases.
2013 | Local residents make major improvements to the habitat at Sandy Point, creating places for birds to nest, rest, and refuel
Informed by the conservation plan, the West Haven Watershed Restoration Committee, Menunkatuck Audubon Society and the City of West Haven begin making improvements at Sandy Point, resulting in an incredibly positive ripple effect.
A dedicated group of volunteers from the Committee, led by Georgianna Jette and Ruth Garby Torres, remove invasive plants, replant salt-tolerant native species, and put in bird and butterfly gardens. The City installs a sign and kiosk and reconfigures the parking lot, adding a viewing platform and four additional raised beds. Menunkatuck Audubon Society erected 8 osprey platforms in the vicinity of Sandy Point from early 2015 to late 2016.
“In 2013, we put out a call for volunteers to do 'Be a Good Egg' educational outreach at Sandy Point, showing beachgoers what they could do to help Piping Plovers and American Oystercatchers (like staying a safe distance from nesting birds and chicks). The City of West Haven provided space for volunteer training and local resident Carol Soter offered up her garage for storing materials between tabling sessions”, says Corrie Folsom-O’Keefe, Director of Bird Conservation for Audubon Connecticut. “A lot of the volunteers were local residents and the effort was so successful that after two years, the bulk of Sandy Point visitors had learned about how to protect these vulnerable species.”
2016 | Local students hired to help educate the public as official bird monitors
In partnership with the City, West Haven High School, the WHWRC, Menunkatuck Audubon Society, and the Roger Tory Peterson Institute, the Audubon Wildlife Guards program expands to West Haven. The program gives local high school students the opportunity to gain experience and work in the field of conservation as Sandy Point’s official beach-nesting bird monitors.
2018 | Scouts and additional residents join the efforts to remove invasive plants at Sandy Point
Eagle Scouts Connor and Aidan Lynch complete projects at Sandy Point, removing invasive plants and replacing them with native plants that benefit birds and other wildlife in the area. Second Ave residents also take an interest in Sandy Point and begin working to eradicate invasive Japanese knotweed along Beach St.
2020 | The City listens to the local community when changes are required to Beach Street
The City held a public meeting at Sandy Point in Dec 2020 to get input from the community on plans to elevate Beach Street. Local residents had concerns about the proposed height and in response the City is working to revise the design for the road project so that it provides a reasonable level of flood protection while reducing the overall height so that it is more in scale with the natural waterfront in this area.
“The transformation of the Sandy Point area and the community morale has been incredible,” said City of West Haven Director of Parks Mark Paine Jr. “It has given a huge jolt of positive energy to the community. Birders, beachgoers, fishermen, and neighbors all enjoy the sanctuary and have formed a friendlier community at a place that was once subject to excessive litter and unwelcomed activity.”
YOUR TOWN OR CITY CAN FOLLOW IN THEIR FOOTSTEPS!
Anyone can follow in West Haven’s footsteps by addressing our six essential "Share the Shore" Award criteria. Just let your local decisionmakers know!
We’ll work with your community to help you:
- Actively manage critical beach habitat
- Launch exciting new programs for volunteers and/or launch paid positions for local youth
- Share positive public messages about shorebirds
- Partner with other local organizations, Audubon chapters, scout troops, and more to help birds
- Seek out feedback from experts
- Innovate and look for new opportunities, especially those related to building stronger, healthier coastlines that can stand up to sea level rise