Staunton State Park is a public recreation area located on Long Island Sound in the city of Milford, Connecticut. The state park’s 1,100 acres (450ha) include a tidal river and marshland. It is managed by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
The park also contains the sites of former communities that have disappeared due to changes in transportation technology, ecology, or both. These include Quashpeake, Norwich, Bradley, Haddam, and Mystic. Archaeological evidence suggests that Native Americans once hunted, fished, and gathered shellfish here, using materials available locally.
Amenities include parking lots, restrooms, playgrounds, and shelters. Seasonal amenities include boat ramps, bathhouses, campgrounds, and food concession stands. The park is used as a venue for major events, including the annual Coastal Heritage Festival, Music in the Parks, and the International Dragon Boat Racing Championships. The park hosts the home races for the Dragon Boat racing team, the Mystic Militia. There are plans to add a bike path along portions of the park, similar to the one being constructed in nearby Stamford. In 2012, volunteers led by environmentalist group Food & Water Watch planted nearly 200 blackberry bushes in an attempt to transform the park into a berry patch.
The effort was a protest against corporate farming practices. Blackberries are native to the Appalachian region, where they grow among mountain laurel trees in rocky, hilly terrain. They thrive in poor soil, and produce large crops even when subjected to heavy grazing. The berries ripen between late spring and fall, depending upon weather conditions. If left undisturbed, the plants spread underground, forming extensive root systems and eventually taking over the entire hillside. Because of their size, ease of cultivation, and high yield, blackberries play an important role in the history and culture of southeastern Connecticut and eastern Massachusetts.
According to folklore, Captain Kidd buried some of his treasure on the island, and although no significant discoveries have been made, the legend lives on. Local children gather around stumps decorated with metal coins, hoping to find the elusive “Crispy Critters”, a reference to the silver dollars minted in Dahlonega, Georgia, which were said to resemble squirrels. Other kids hunt for arrowheads, bottle caps, paper clips, and other assorted small objects. Every year, millions of people visit the Selden Neck Wildlife Refuge to observe the Atlantic Flyway. For many of these same people, Staunton State Park is the starting point of their journey toward seeing wildlife in nature.
Deer flies, ticks, and mosquitoes live in the forested regions of the park. White tail deer are the largest animals that frequent the park, though there is little chance of encountering them since hunting is prohibited. Bicyclists use the paved portion of the park roadway to access the adjacent bicycle path to the north. The 0.75-mile-long (1.21km) path connects to the Hudson River Greenway Trail in North Branford. The greenway leads to the northern section of the Great River Valley National Recreation Area, offering further possibilities for exploration via bicycle.
The park offers two campgrounds, with campsites accommodating up to six individuals. Thirty tent and trailer sites are scattered throughout the campground, which also features three sanitary dump stations. Seven lean-to shelters are provided for those seeking a bit more privacy.
In 1908, conservationists purchased land near the mouth of the Thames River and established what would become one of America’s first state parks at Staunton State Park. Between 1909 and 1913, workers with the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society (ASPS), an organization founded by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., laid out the grounds of what was to become one of America’s most popular state parks. Designed primarily as a place for passive recreation such as hiking, picnics, and cross-country skiing, the park features paths that allow visitors to travel from one end to the other without having to make a single turn.
At its inception, the park covered only 50 acres (20ha). By 1912, this had grown to 150 acres (61ha). An additional 350 acres (140ha) were added in 1926, bringing the total acreage to 450 acres (180ha). During World War II, the site became the location for Fort Trumbull and served as the landing point for troops headed to Europe. After the war, local citizens showed their appreciation for the work done by the soldiers by presenting General Dwight D. Eisenhower with a gift of 100 acres (40ha), which was then known as “Eisenhower State Park.” This marked the beginning of the state’s system of protected open spaces along the shoreline.
With help from federal funding allocated for veterans’ programs, the state acquired more than 500 acres through the purchase of options on undervalued property and the donation of excess military housing. When fully developed, the park will offer camping facilities, picnic areas, playing fields, and trails for hiking, biking, horseback riding, and cross-country skiing. A bike path leading all the way to New York City has been proposed but not yet built.
On November 5, 2009, Governor M. Jodi Rell announced $11 million in funding for 12 miles (19km) of waterfront trail connecting Long Island Sound with the Hudson River Greenway. The project includes 7 miles (11km) of new rail trail, 3 miles (4.8km) of roadbed, and a portion of an existing right-of-way along the Shore Line East railroad. The governor emphasized that the funds should be considered a down payment on future investments, possibly including private money. The state plans to acquire approximately 700 acres of undeveloped property over time, with the ultimate goal of creating a linear park stretching from the Sound to the Hudson River. As part of the deal, Conrail will transfer to the state its 30-year old right-of-way east of North Branford, allowing the creation of a contiguous 32-mile (51km) route across town to the Hudson River Pathway. Construction could begin as early as 2014, with completion expected within four years.
The park is named after Lieutenant Colonel William Ledyard Staunton, who was born in Groton, Connecticut, in 1847, entered the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1863, graduated in 1869, and was assigned to duty on the Western Front during the Franco-Prussian War. He later achieved distinction in several battles, received the Medal of Honor, and rose to the rank of general. His grave can be found in Plot 49B, Section 8, at the western edge of the park.
- bird watching
- cross country skiing
Animals seen seasonally along the coast include:
- Eastern gray squirrels
- black bears
- white pelicans
The park provides habitat for a variety of mammals including:
- garter snakes
- pileated woodpeckers
- red bellied turtles
- cottontail rabbit
- meadow jumping mice
- striped skunks