Ignorance or defiance?
Although the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection has officially closed Charles Island to the public from May 24 through Sept. 9 to protect nature, people are still walking out to the island at their own risk despite signs warning of tidal dangers.
“I think it’s bad for the community. If we can’t go there, we’re gonna go somewhere else. After we leave [Charles Island] we’re going to have lunch nearby. It’s bad for business if we have to go someplace like Misquamicut (R.I.) instead,” said Matthew Kocloski, on his way to the island.
Others care, but were ill-informed about the island’s summer closure.
"I agree with closing the island if it's for true environmental purposes,” said Brian McCarthy, who added that he hadn’t seen any signage about the island’s closure on the Silver Sands side of the tombolo.
“Wait a minute,” said McCarthy, “I’m walking all the way out there and I’m just supposed to turn back when I get there?”
Some beach-goers did know the island was closed, but went anyway.
“I knew that it was closed. We were just going for a walk. The birds need to have their own area,” said Maria Rodriguez, who saw the signage on the island and turned back.
The DEP says it would escort trespassers from the island if necessary, if they're reported.
But there are no penalties for the intrusion.
So, it seems, there's no real incentive to stay off the storied island. According to local lore, Capt. Kidd may have buried treasure there -- and it's never been found.
DEP spokesman Dwayne Gardner said, "If someone is seen out there, we will dispatch an officer to escort them off the island.
“Ordinarily we would hope people wouldn’t be out there, but when there are, we hope people will let us know and an officer will be dispatched.”
DEP police officers will be patrolling the island, particularly on weekends and after dark, and there are park staffers at Silver Sands. If someone reports seeing people on the island, an officer will be dispatched immediately, according to the DEP.
Gardner maintains the area is very well signed.
At the Silver Sands end of the sandbar, there are three easily seen signs regarding the danger of crossing the sandbar.
However, there is only one small yellow sign at the start of the sandbar. The sign clearly states that the “entire island” is off limits, but it's not easily seen up close, and cannot be viewed at all from the boardwalk.
Even one DEP police officer told Milford Patch that he thought the Charles Island shoreline was still open to the public. Even he had not seen the signs which reads: “THIS ENTIRE ISLAND IS CLOSED. No Public Use Permitted May 24 – September 9.”
The island is off-limits because it's designated as a Natural Area Preserve -- and technically has been closed to the public each summer since 2006, although it's known to be commonly visited, according to the DEP.
Fire officials warn the public against going out if they're unfamiliar with the area. It's dangerous because the sandbar, which is accessible at low tide, suddenly becomes inaccessible at high tide. Three teens nearly drowned earlier this week when the high tide forced them for the sand bar into the water. Luckily, they were rescued by two jet skiers, just before firefighters were about to jump in.
For those who want to enjoy Milford’s diverse ecology without disturbing the birds nesting on Charles Island, Connecticut Audubon Coastal Center takes people out to Charles Island in the fall, after the nesting season. In addition, 3,000 feet of new boardwalk was opened in May, stretching between Silver Sands State Park and Walnut Beach.
To report violations of the Charles Island summer closure, call 1-800-842-4357.