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History of the Nature Center

In the 1990s, Park Supervisor Glenn Dochtermann turned an unused first-aid and lifeguard building near the West Beach into a meeting place for guided field trips, and he furnished it with specimens of local wildlife. The Friends of Sherwood Island, shortly after their formation in 1995, officially adopted that Nature Center as a special project and voted to support it as an ongoing commitment, purchasing tanks, showcases and a library and later establishing a summer internship program.

The Nature Center at Sherwood Island State Park is the result of a successful public-private partnership between the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection and the Friends of Sherwood Island State Park.

After years of fundraising and construction the doors were opened for the first time in spring 2009. The opening ceremony was held in August.

The Center is located between the East Beach and the salt marsh nature trail. Staff naturalists, summer interns and volunteer docents are offering summer nature walks, bird watching, lectures, and learning activities for kids.

At the opening ceremony, DEP Deputy Commissioner Susan Frechette, Acting Commissioner Amey Marrella, Westport First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, DEP Supervisor Mark Rickert, Friends President Sheila O'Neill.

How it came to be

When the little Nature Center was deemed structurally unsound in 2002 and slated for demolition, the Friends vowed to devote all their fundraising efforts to constructing a new one. Their determination was shared by the DEP Parks Division Western Region Supervisor Mark Rickert, who was developing plans for a site overlooking the East Beach.

The Friends launched a capital campaign to contribute $150,000 toward the cost. To the total construction cost of $340,000, the Friends were able to contribute $144,000 and have funds left over for equipment and supplies, and stipends for the summer interns. The DEP Parks Division contributed $196,000.

Mark Rickert, Western District Park Operations Supervisor, DEP Parks Division in the Nature Center that he conceived and designed. He managed the project from start to finish.

First visitors at the touch tank

Funding for the Center

The Center was built with funds from CT DEP, grants from public and private sources, and from the fundraising efforts of the Friends of Sherwood Island.

The new Nature Center benefited greatly from grants awarded to the Friends of Sherwood Island.

The GE Foundation (then the GE Fund) breathed life into the project with a $50,000 grant in late 2002.

Other major grants came from individuals and organizations, including:
Chris & Terri Bell; Dancing Tides Foundation/Mele; Lauri & Michael Friedland; Al & Hope Hageman; Newman’s Own Foundation; and the Betty R. & Ralph Sheffer Foundation.

Additional funds came – and will continue to come – from the Friends’ annual Shorefest lobster dinner and silent auction.

Funding for educational equipment and displays has been provided by the Long Island Sound Fund administered by the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEP)through the sale of Long Island Sound license plates and contributions.

 

The LIS Futures Fund provided support to the CT-DEP State Parks Division to design, develop and install educational exhibits and materials for the new Nature Center.

The Futures Fund is a partnership between EPA Long Island Sound Study and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

 

Hands-on help

During construction, the Parks Division had the help of corporate and civic organizations who donated money or goods, and from individuals who generously volunteered their time or services.
Among them:

  • Architect Peter Wormser contributed his expertise in refining elements of the building’s design and appearance. In 2007, Builder’s Beyond Borders volunteered a sizable work party for a weekend carpentry blitz at which time all the exterior walls were framed and sheathed to make the building weather-tight. Tom Wormser of Wormser Development Group in Westport donated his own time and that of his experienced carpenters to coordinate and oversee the B3 work crew.
  • Ring’s End Lumber and Andersen Windows.

Slide show of the construction stages

Going forward

The Friends will continue to raise funds for ongoing support of the Nature Center.