Rules, Nesting Eagles Await Visitors as Darien Opens Great Island

Garden scene on Great Island, Darien (CT Examiner)

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DARIEN — Lace up your sneakers, call an Uber but leave your swimsuit and labradoodle at home.  

That’s the message from the Darien Board of Selectmen who voted Monday night to open Great Island to pedestrians.  

Beginning Mar. 1, visitors will be allowed to explore the $85 million, 60 acre property – as long as they stay on the paved roadways.  That is just one of the 26 rules approved by the board for “early access” and use of the island. 

The rules also prohibit cars, pets, alcohol, glass containers, bicycles, boats, kayaks and paddle boards.  Visitors are not allowed to picnic, swim, fish, smoke or vape on the property.  

Also, residents may want to plan ahead since there are no public restrooms on the island.

There is also no parking available at Great Island nor is it allowed on the adjacent streets so visitors must park in the lot at Pear Tree Point Beach and get their steps in with a mile-long walk to the property entrance.  Or, as First Selectmen Jon Zagrodzky suggested, residents could call an Uber instead.   

Selectman Monica McNally, who spearheaded the town’s purchase of the estate once owned by the Ziegler family, said that one of the goals of the “soft opening” is to spur ideas from the public about how to best enjoy the property. 

“The committee really felt strongly that getting people out there onto it, and letting them experience the island would help form opinion as to what we want to do longer term,” she said.

To help preserve the pristine nature of the town property, visitors may not pick any flower or disturb any wildlife on the property.  Visitors must also leave with their trash.  

Darien residents might want to grab some binoculars to check out the pair of bald eagles who have made their nest on the island.  According to the rules, however, visitors may not climb any tree or wall to get a closer look at the national symbols.  

“It’s a stunning piece of nature and minimizing our footprint as we interact with that nature is something that will ensure that that’s an asset we can all enjoy for a long time,” said Zagrodzky. 

According to McNally, there will be plenty of signs to help guests and some that will display QR codes so that the list of rules can be easily accessed.  McNally reminded the public that enforcement of the regulations will be monitored by the Darien police and rule breakers may be fined as much as $250.   

The property will be open daily from sunrise to sunset for the first month.  Great Island will be closed to the public during the week starting on Apr. 1, when work begins on widening the entrance.  Entry then will be limited to weekends only.  Construction is expected to be completed sometime in July.  

At that time, the board said new rules would be adopted allowing for full public access.

“It’s an experiment,” Zagrodzky said. “Let’s see how things play out.  We’ll take your input and make it better.”