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Once private land, Great Island opens as a new public park in Darien

Great Island
Town of Darien
The town of Darien bought Great Island to protect it from development and it opens March 1st to visitors on foot. No vehicles, bicycles or dogs will be allowed.

Darien is opening Great Island to the public on Friday, March 1, after it purchased the 60-acre island on Long Island Sound last year for $85 million from the Steinkraus family, which had owned the property for more than 100 years.

The island features 1.5 miles of shoreline, mature woodland, four homes, an equestrian building and boat house.

The town has not yet created a parking area, so Darien’s First Selectman Jon Zagrodzky suggests visitors utilize Pear Tree Beach parking lot and then walk the roughly 1 mile to Great Island’s entrance road.

Zagrodzky said the one month soft opening of the island will be a learning experience for the town.

"As we gain experience and maturity, with having the access granted like this, our thinking will evolve and we'll relax and let the rules kind of shape themselves over time,” he said.

No vehicles, bicycles or dogs will be allowed and pedestrians must stay on paved roads as they explore the area, which is more like a peninsula.

It will only be open during daylight hours.

The soft opening will likely end on April 1, Zagrodzky said, when construction begins on widening the entrance road. But Zagrodzky said if visitor safety can be assured, then the town might continue allowing public access.

The rules will not impact enjoyment of the island's serenity, Zagrodzky said.

"You will come away with a greater appreciation of the power of nature when you see all this, especially if you get up closer to the water and see some of the views,” he said.

The town bought the property to protect it from development and to create new opportunities for community activities. Darien officials hope to fulfill priorities and strategies laid out in the 2016 Town Plan of Conservation and Development and 2018 Parks and Recreation Master Plan.

Darien created a Great Island Advisory Committee to help determine its long-term plans for the unique purchase.

Zagrodzky said he'd like to do everything the town can to preserve Great Island's natural experience and environment.

Jennifer Ahrens is a producer for Morning Edition. She spent 20+ years producing TV shows for CNN and ESPN. She joined Connecticut Public Media because it lets her report on her two passions, nature and animals.

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