Silver Sands State Park is a state park in the town of East Lyme, Connecticut. The park consists of 1,400 acres (5km2) of shoreline and dunes with an additional 2,000 acres (8km2) available for non-motorized use including hiking, bicycling, fishing, bird watching and cross-country skiing.
In addition to its beaches, parks, and nature center, the park also features a campground with tent and trailer sites, picnic areas, playgrounds, bathhouse, dump station, bike path, and boardwalk. The park’s forests form part of the Northeastern coastal forests ecoregion. A significant area of forested wetlands, known as the Blackledge Woods, occupies more than one-third of the park.
White tail deer are occasionally sighted at the park. Beaches are open from dawn until dusk seven days per week beginning Memorial Day weekend and ending Labor Day weekend. Parking fees are in effect during the months of May through mid September. There is no fee to enter the park or use its facilities. All other access requires a fee which varies according to the permit you have purchased. Annual passes can be acquired at any DEP office. No alcoholic beverages, glass containers, kites, drones, fireworks, hunting licenses, or snowmobiles are permitted on the beach. Pets are not allowed on the beach or in bathing areas. Amenities include restrooms, parking lots, picnic tables and playing fields.
The park has a large number of trails that offer a variety of activities, some of these trails connect to each other and form loops. Some of the trails are flat while others are rocky. Most trails begin and end near the parking lot/clam pit since there is little traffic on them. The park hosts many events open to the public, including music festivals, environmental fairs, historical reenactments, naturalist programs, children’s day camps and holiday events.
Home Improvement Night was held at the park every October from 1974 – 1983. It became Home Depot’s “Hometown Heroes” event in 1984, before being discontinued in 2005. The park provides space for holding weddings and receptions, as well as hosting civil unions. Since 2009, same sex couples have been able to get marriage licenses from the court clerk in New London County where the park is located. The park receives about 200,000 visitors annually. About 100,000 people visit during summer season alone. On an average weekday in July, the park sees about 50,000 visitors. According to figures released by the state, attendance increased nearly 20% between 2016 and 2017.
Prior to 2011, admission to the park was free, although there was a charge for overnight accommodations at one of the two inns. Beginning in that year, a $12 daily vehicle entrance fee was charged for vehicles to park in the park. The fee is waived for residents who are registered owners of cars that were licensed when the fee was in place. Passes good for three days or a week are also available; annual passes good at all 17 DEP parks charging fees are offered at a cost of $75 for out-of-state visitors or $60 for Connecticut residents. The park boasts a new environmentally friendly composting toilet facility, replacing the old landfill system.
Construction began in 2015 and was completed in 2016. The new toilets feature a tankless water heater and solar panels atop a metal structure resembling a ship’s bow. Inside the bowl, a series of tubes carry away excess moisture and fertilizer products for processing at a composting facility. A nearby plot grows food waste, tree trimmings and yard clippings for the soil. As a further sustainable measure, the park charges a small user fee for those who wish to utilize the composting facilities. Fees are waived for residents age 62 & older and their spouses, and for veterans and their spouses. Accessibility for the disabled was assessed by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection using the standards set forth in the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Upon completion of the assessment, Silver Sands State Park was found to generally meet the requirements of the act. However, several issues preventing full accessibility were identified. These included inaccessible pathways leading to the main road and lack of accessible parking. The state determined that, to fully comply with the ADA regulations, modifications to the roadway and parking areas would be required. Accordingly, work started in 2012 on improving the accessibility of the park. An alternate route to the main road was carved into the sandstone bluffs to lessen the impact on the environment, i.e., cut down trees and shrubs. Work continued throughout 2013 and 2014 with landscaping along the roadside and installation of split rail fences around the perimeter of the park.
Additional improvements were made in 2015, with construction of a foot bridge across one of the gaps in the fence surrounding the picnic grounds. Further modifications were made in 2016, with paved shoulders added to certain sections of the highway and signs posted to direct drivers to make appropriate turns at the intersection. Finally, a major project concluded in June 2018, with paving work performed on the entire length of the park roadways and installation of pedestrian crossing guards at key intersections. While much progress had been made in enhancing the accessibility of the park, it remained difficult for individuals with physical challenges to access certain areas of the park.
For example, ruts formed in the sandy soil along portions of the routes used by wheelchair users prevented easy passage. Additionally, steep slopes were present along certain stretches of the roads, making travel difficult for anyone, but particularly so for those in wheelchairs. To address these issues, the state implemented an improvement plan designed to continue expanding accessibility over time. Areas of the park with high usage potential, including heavily traveled paths like the Coastal Trail and roads nearing completion, were prioritized for improvement.
Pathway modifications under this plan included widening the existing ruts and adding gravel to make the pathways more durable. Paved shoulders were installed along certain sections of Highway 52 to accommodate handicapped-accessible wagons. Split rail fencing was incorporated into the landscape design along certain sections of the park to create a barrier against oncoming traffic. Lastly, a ramp was built at one of the entrances to allow easier entry for pedestrians with mobility challenges. Although much progress had been made in enhancing the accessibility of the park, it remains challenging to access certain areas of the park. Silver Sands State Park is committed to continuing to improve accessibility for everyone.
It offers opportunities for:
- surf casting
- scuba diving
- mountain biking
- motor boating
Popular winter activities are:
- ice skating
Other wildlife observed at the park includes:
- striped skunks
- bald eagles
- owls such as screech owls
- barred owls
- saw-whet owls
- ghost owls
- herring gulls
- common loons
- least terns
- black skimmers
- wild turkeys
These woodlands provide habitat for birds such as:
- pileated woodpecker
- snapping turtles
- soft-shelled turtles
- painted bromeliads
- banded waters
- spring peepers
- red bellied turtles