SHERWOOD ISLAND STATE PARK
Connecticut's first state park is still one of its finest. Have a leisurely lunch in the shade of the picnic grove, swim in Long Island sound, or view marsh life from the observation platform at Sherwood Island.
In addition to a beautiful picnic area, beaches, shelters, and even a model airplane runway, Sherwood Island State Park is home to some interesting Connecticut State geology. Although there is a lack of actual rock outcrops, coastal geology is an important aspect of the park's distinctiveness.
Strolling down the beach, you may notice the sand alternating in colors from tan to red to black. Even though the red and black layers may look "dirty", the red layers are comprised of garnet and the black layers contain magnetite. Garnet, the Connecticut state mineral, and magnetite, a dark metallic mineral, have very high densities. Therefore, they have the tendency to settle out from the less dense tan layers, which are mostly quartz, as a result of wave energy. Just like the technique for gold panning, the dense minerals settle out of the system, leaving behind well-formed layers. Additionally, as its name suggests, a magnet will attract magnetite and you could easily separate the magnetite from the quartz and garnet grains. In addition to the variety of sand types, as you look up and down the beach you will notice two large jetties projecting out into Long Island Sound. These too have geologic significance. The dark black jetty located downhill from the picnic area is comprised mainly of basalt, which is a dark, fine-grained igneous rock that forms when lava cools quickly on the surface of the earth. Since the basalt boulders were brought into the park from an alternate location, they have not had the exposure time necessary to exhibit the smoothing effects of erosion. Therefore, the basalt boulders are large and angular as opposed to small and round.
Another jetty is located before the small bay. Overall, this jetty is lighter in color than the basalt jetty, since it is comprised mainly of schist and gneiss. Extremely shiny, especially in strong sunlight, schist is a metamorphic rock formed under high temperatures and pressures. In this jetty, the schist boulders contain mostly mica and quartz. Like schist, gneiss (pronounced "nice") is a metamorphic rock that formed at great depth where pressures and temperatures were very high. The gneiss boulders in the jetty have distinct dark and light layers, which are sometimes folded into intricate curves and swirls.
The minerals that give gneiss its distinct banded quality are biotite, quartz, and feldspar. The dark layers are the mineral biotite whereas the lighter layer is often feldspar or quartz. In addition to schist and gneiss boulders, you may also happen across a few basalt boulders in this jetty, although they are not as common as in the previously discussed jetty. Jetties are constructed along coastlines to retard beach erosion by blocking sediment from traveling downshore in the longshore current. The jetties trap the sediment in the longshore current building up the beach on one side of the jetty. However, the other side of the jetty becomes deprived of sediment and therefore erosion occurs rapidly on this side. Behind the parking lots at Sherwood Island, a large, tidally dominated salt marsh exists. The salt marsh fills up as the tide comes in each day and empties as the tide goes out. The salt marsh is home to several birds and vegetation as well as a small model airplane landing strip that sits beside the marsh. Sherwood Island is truly an island when the salt marsh floods during high tide, separating the park from the mainland of Connecticut.
The highest topography in the park is a partially eroded drumlin; an elongated hill comprised of till formed by glacial deposition. Till is very poorly sorted and ranges in particle size from clay to boulder. The drumlin is experiencing erosion on the Sound side. This is evident by the numerous cobbles that eroded out of the drumlin till, which are now located on the beach.
Sherwood Island State Park covers just over 235 acres in the Greens Farms section of Westport. It is bounded on the west by the Mill Pond and on the east by New Creek. Centuries ago, another creek (Gallup?s Gap Creek) ran roughly down the middle, with an island to its west (Fox Island) and marshland to its east.
In the 1600s, a group of farmers settled on land east of the present park. They shared the surrounding salt marsh and farmed what was then called Fox Island. At the same time Thomas Sherwood, a miller from Nottingham England, arrived in nearby Fairfield with his family.
In 1787, Sherwood descendents settled on Fox Island and acquired an existing gristmill on the Mill Pond. Through the 1800s, on what came to be called Sherwood?s Island, the Sherwoods grew abundant crops. Onions and potatoes in particular were sent by ship to New York in great quantity. The gristmill serviced local farmers until grain farming in the area declined.
In 1914, after surveying the coastline, the Connecticut State Park Commission determined that the Sherwood?s Island area was the only location in Fairfield County suitable for a shore park. By then, the land had many owners. For help in making acquisitions, the Commission turned to William H. Burr Jr., a Westport produce farmer, former state legislator and an activist for historical preservation.
Because the first property purchase was made in 1914, Sherwood Island is said to be Connecticut?s oldest state park; but many years passed before it was accessible to the public. By 1923, with William Burr acting as intermediary, the State had acquired 48 acres of land on the marsh. However, neighboring landowner objections held up further funding to buy uplands for parking and park facilities. Through continuing advocacy by Burr and several regional associations, funding for the key parcels was approved, but not until 1937. These purchases were instrumental in creating momentum that lead to additional acquisitions and recreational improvements.
Connecticut has made state parks, forests, trails, historic sites and beaches more accessible to our residents so they can enjoy the many attractions and beauty they offer. Under the Passport to the Parks program, parking fees are now eliminated at Connecticut State Parks for those with Connecticut registered vehicles. You can view the CONNECTICUT PASSPORT TO THE PARKS
web page to learn more.