Sandy Point expected to be added to McKinney Refuge

Stonington — The Avalonia Land Conservancy is in negotiation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to add the Sandy Point Nature Preserve to the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge. 

The island, which is a popular attraction for recreational boaters and bathers, is in both Rhode Island and Connecticut between Fishers Island Sound and Little Narragansett Bay. Although the lease of the island to the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and its inclusion in the sprawling McKinney Refuge is not complete, FWS announced Thursday that seasonal passes to Sandy Point would be cheaper this year under a new fee schedule. 

“This is not a done deal yet,” said Michele Fitzpatrick, president of Avalonia Land Conservancy, which owns the island and has had the Stonington Community Center help to manage it in the past. 

While Fitzpatrick said it is her expectation that the lease arrangement will be finalized, she said it has not yet. She did say that Avalonia’s board voted to have FWS manage Sandy Point and enforce regulations there. 

“The plan is for them to have a very strong presence the first season there,” Fitzpatrick said. 

Island prohibitions include such things as camping, dogs, beach fires and fireworks. And visitors are required to keep a distance from nesting birds. 

According to Avalonia’s winter newsletter, the lease will allow FWS “to possess, occupy, develop, maintain, and enforce regulations governing” the property. Fitzpatrick said Avalonia will not relinquish ownership of Sandy Point. 

For about five years, FWS has been helping with stewardship of the island, but through the lease agreement, Fitzpatrick said the agency will get enforcement powers. 

“This has been in process for quite a while,” she said. “It just makes much more sense for them to manage this for us.” 

When the anticipated 10-year lease is completed, Sandy Point will become part of the McKinney National Wildlife Preserve, already comprising 10 units spread across 70 miles of Connecticut’s coastline. 

The refuge was established in 1972 and renamed in 1978 to honor the late U.S. Congressman Stewart B. McKinney, who had helped to expand it. 

Located in the Atlantic Flyway, the refuge provides areas for resting and feeding as well as nesting habitat for many species of birds in Westbrook, Guilford and Stratford. 

Fitzpatrick said Avalonia planned to announce the lease agreement once the deal is completed, but on Thursday FWS announced the planned fee schedule. 

An individual pass will be $55 compared with $70 last summer, while a family pass will be $75 compared to $90 last summer. The cost of a daily pass will remain the same at $5. A senior citizen pass will be $25 and those who have a Federal Duck Stamp are free. Permits are required from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Permits are expected to be available at the Stonington Community Center and on the National Wildlife Refuge website beginning in late April. 

“While we prefer not to charge a fee, we looked into the costs associated with managing the island, and found that a fee was going to be needed,” said Charlie Vandemoer, refuge manager for the Rhode Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex. “We looked hard at trimming the budget, and compared our proposed fees with those charged in other local areas.” 

The fees will help to pay for law enforcement, biological surveys and assessments, visitor services such as environmental education and interpretation, as well as administration of the fee program. 

“The goal is to manage the island as a Nature Preserve (National Wildlife Refuge) as it was intended at donation to the Avalonia Conservancy Inc., while at the same time maintaining its availability to the public for passive recreation and appreciation of the wildlife we aim to protect,” said the wildlife service announcement. 

The service is seeking public comment on the proposed fees. Comments will be accepted through March 10 and can be sent to:

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

ATTN: Sandy Point Island

50 Bend Road

Charlestown, RI 02813.

Twitter: @joewojtas

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