Hiking Guide: From forest, to field, to fen at McKinney wildlife refuge

The salt marsh at the McKinney refuge starts to give way to local rivers and waterways bound for Long Island Sound.

It's a special place that can highlight two prominent natural features of our region: forest and coastline.

The Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge in Westbrook takes hikers past grand evergreens and cheerful beeches before it wows the newcomer when it gives way to a huge salt marsh - complete with telescope. Staffers even provide notes about the critters visitors might see on the trail, from blue crabs to skunks to ducks, cormorants and osprey.

Pop back into the woods and hike to an even better (less marshy) tidal-marsh area, where you'll view what looks like never-ending water, birds flitting and diving throughout. Juxtapose that with views of the Shoreline East rail line and the marinas surrounding Bill's Seafood and you'll certainly feel like an outsider looking into the world rushing by.

Trees give way to a delightful grassy walkway and field at the end of the trail. Birdsong seems louder without as much rushing wind through leaves and branches. Keep an eye out for killdeer and the very popular woodcock, known for its extravagant mating dance and subject of a popular program at this refuge.

An informational sign notes the presence of blue crab in the waterways near McKinney.
An informational sign notes the presence of blue crab in the waterways near McKinney.
An observation deck overlooks the salt marsh at Stewart B. McKinney Wildlife Refuge.
An observation deck overlooks the salt marsh at Stewart B. McKinney Wildlife Refuge.
A sandpiper picks through marsh grass.
A sandpiper picks through marsh grass.

Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge

Name of Property: Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge - Salt Meadow Unit; 733 Old Clinton Road, Westbrook

Directions from I-95: Take Exit 64 off of I-95 and turn south on Rt 145. At the stop sign, take a left on Old Clinton Rd. The visitor parking area is about 1 mile up on the right.

Where to Park: Follow entrance road to designated parking area

Description: Connecticut's first National Wildlife Refuge. According to its website, the refuge was established "to protect feeding, nesting and resting habitat for migratory birds, to encourage natural diversity of fish and wildlife species and to provide environmental education opportunities for the public."
Also named an "Important Bird Area" by National Audubon Society; located along the Atlantic Flyway.

Features: Four hundred acres of salt marsh, forest, grassland and shrubland.
Maintained two-mile trail provides views of tidal wetlands as they flow out into Long Island Sound. Refuge is adjacent to the Menunketesuck River.
Also view stands of huge evergreens, impressive mountain laurels and grassy promenades on the trail.

Wildlife: Inhabitants include woodcock, bluebirds, tree swallows, wild turkeys and numerous species of butterflies and dragonflies, great egrets, glossy ibis, snowy egrets, belted kingfishers, endangered roseate terns and osprey, among others. Occasional visits from skunks, red foxes, coyotes and red-tailed hawks.

Regulations: No dogs, horses, kites, fishing, hunting, fires, camping, removal of plants and animals. No bicycles or other vehicles inside refuge.

Amenities: Informational signs along the trails provide details about wildlife and habitat.

Fees: None

Things to Note: Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge consists of 11 refuge units across 70 miles of Connecticut's coastline, from Westbrook to Greenwich.

The refuge hosts wildlife events at Salt Meadow Unit throughout the year, including many bird walks and bird-banding and birds of prey demonstrations.

Links/More Information:
www.fws.gov/northeast/mckinney; or call (860) 399-2513

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