Darien Residents Delight in Great Island’s Public Debut

Pedestrians walk the pathways on Great Island in Darien on March 3, 2024 (CT Examiner).


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DARIEN — The first weekend of pedestrian access to Great Island garnered enthusiastic reviews from visitors for its scenic vistas and tranquil grounds.

“It’s stunning! We’re blown away,” resident Margaret Arrix said.

The unseasonably warm temperatures and sunny skies drew hundreds of curious walkers, joggers and stroller-pushing parents on Sunday to the property, which the town purchased for $85 million in May.   

Hilarie Arguimbau said the town made a smart decision in saving the property from development, given the scarcity of open space in Darien. 

“It’s really a terrific spot and we don’t need any more big houses,” she said.  

Hilarie and her husband, Vinny, strolled the pathways of Great Island on Sunday, and had attended summer lobster bakes on the island in the past. They are hopeful the town doesn’t tamper with the island’s charm.  

“We like it as it is,” Vinny said.  

Staring up at the 100-year-old equestrian facility once owned by Olympic gold medalist William Steinkraus, Darien resident Nan Peter said she hopes the town preserves the current structures.

“I hope they maintain as much of the character and history of the island as possible,” she said. 

Peter suggested that the equestrian center and the 13,000-square-foot estate overlooking Long Island Sound could be repurposed into unique event venues, which the town could rent out to offset maintenance costs. Peter also said she was mesmerized by the island’s tranquility and natural beauty.

“I feel a million miles away from Darien,” she said.

That was a common sentiment among visitors on Sunday.  

“Even with the big crowds today, it was so peaceful,” said Pat Parr, a Darien resident who walked the grounds with his wife and friends. “We loved the meandering roads and stunning water views. It would be a shame to provide much access to cars. I hope the town keeps the focus on pedestrian access.”

Fiona Leonard, who grew up in Darien and visited the island with her husband and two children on Sunday, described the property as a “little escape.” The Leonard family also got a sneak peek at the property during the town-sponsored bus tour of the island in October.

“I always wanted to know what went on behind these gates,” she said.  

Currently, some of the 60-acre site is not open to foot traffic. To afford privacy to existing tenants, many pathways have been blocked with wooden barriers and marked with “No Public Access” signs. Despite the restrictions, however, there is still plenty to enjoy about Great Island, according to local fourth-grader Jack Malone, who was visiting for the first time with his parents and siblings.  

“I’d say it’s a pretty nice island, good views of the water and lots of room for playing around,” he said.

“It’s beautiful. It’s great for little kids,” resident Catlin Gallagher said, but lamented at the lack of on-site parking and public bathrooms.  

Residents will not have to wait long for those conveniences, according to Selectman Monica McNally. She said Great Island will have restrooms and some “pocket parking” by mid-summer.   

Great Island Advisory Committee members were also on site over the weekend to greet residents and gather feedback.  

“It’s a perfect day for a walk,” First Selectman Jon Zagrodzky said. “It’s quiet. It’s scenic.”

Many visitors likened the property to Waveny Park in New Canaan, Tod’s Point in
Greenwich and Central Park in New York City.  

McNally viewed those comparisons not only as compliments, but as inspiration for the town to create a truly unique and treasured asset for the community. 

“We love those places and we’re going to try to do even better,” she said.  

Great Island’s scenic beauty has also attracted the attention of the Connecticut Office of Film, Television and Digital Media, which is in early talks with town officials about filming on the property. Additionally, the town is working to hire a consulting firm to help create a master development plan for the island.

After spending the morning exploring Great Island, Parr found that the property offers plenty of interesting and intriguing features for the town to work with.  

“With so many charming old structures and varied and distinct areas, it should provide a tremendous canvas for the town to create something really special,” he said.