Researching Natural Connecticut With a Click of Your Mouse
There are countless ways to get outside and enjoy the outdoors. But while entry to many national parks and wild & scenic rivers is free, much of the public remains unaware of the plethora of recreational activities and experiences at their fingertips. Worse yet, even interested visitors often find tourist information about lesser-known parks, trails, and rivers in rural communities to be difficult to find and minimal in scope. Aware of the dearth of information about their surrounding communities, the Eightmile River Wild & Scenic Watershed set out to improve access to their pristine lands.
“Once I received this very long letter,” laughed Patricia Young, program director of Eightmile River Wild & Scenic Watershed, “pages of questions — where can we eat? Can we bring our dog? Is there a good place to camp? What is your best restaurant?”
Young realized that many of the people visiting the river for recreational activities were also interested in exploring the nearby area, from local restaurants to shopping centers to the best places to stay. The rural location of the river and the lack of easily accessible tourist and recreation information pose a challenge for out of towners interested in visiting the 62 square miles of wilderness and winding river. Young’s realization and personal observations prompted an exciting plan to expand accessibility.
In 2018, the National Park Foundation awarded the Eightmile River Wild & Scenic Coordinating Committee $8,125 for their “Mapping Outdoor Adventure Opportunities” project. The project created an interactive map that identifies river and recreation access for fishing, wading, kayaking and scenic overlooks. It also includes links to local complementary businesses and activities, including farmer’s markets, stores with outdoor gear and supplies, and lodging. The website (www.wanderourwatershed.org) launched in 2019 and houses the interactive map and other valuable information.
The coordinating committee works closely with the five Connecticut towns that are part of the watershed (Salem, East Haddam, Colchester, Lyme and East Lyme). Beyond these five towns, the map also includes the town of Old Lyme, given its close proximity to the watershed towns and designation as an Important Bird Area by the Connecticut Audubon Society. This project clearly exemplifies the important connections between public lands and their surrounding communities.
The Eightmile River is now able to engage the community in a unique way, improving the local economy and creating a new sense of connection to the watershed for locals. “Mapping Outdoor Adventure Opportunities on the Eightmile Wild & Scenic River” was one of 20 projects to receive funding from the National Park Foundation in 2018. These grants provided close to $600,000 to parks across the country in honor of the 50th anniversary of the National Trails System and Wild & Scenic Rivers acts.
The map and website are only the first step in providing increased accessibility to the many recreational activities and memory-making experiences at Eightmile River Wild and Scenic Watershed. The National Park Foundation proudly supports projects like these, connecting more people to our public lands and improving the visitor experience once there. After all, shouldn’t every #FindYourPark #EncuentraTuParque trip be easy and informative?