Hammonasset Beach State Park was created and the first land purchased in 1919. One of the last and most important additions was the purchase of 339 acres of Meigs' Point. The park borders Long Island Sound for about 10,000 feet and the Hammonasset River for about 5000 feet. The habitat consists of approx. 600 acres of salt marsh; 300 acres of grass parking and camping areas and about 100 acres of young forest upland. The unique location of several of the upland areas within the marsh and grassland peninsula creates an effective migrant trap. The site is unusual (and especially valuable for education) in having an array of habitat types in close proximity to one another. Birding groups statewide use the park heavily, with virtually every birding organization, as well as many educational facilities, having one or more field trips to the site each year. School groups and many adult education birding classes visit the park, and the SCSU and UCONN Ornithology classes make several trips a year.
The federally and state threatened Piping Plover nests on the river beach, along with the state threatened Least Tern, and special concern species American Oystercatcher. Several species of wading birds use the marsh as foraging habitat in the nesting and post-nesting dispersal seasons. The marsh provides important stopover/wintering habitat for Northern Harriers (2nd highest banding total in North America). The Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow nesting population has elevated the park to a globally Important Bird Area. Due to the park's coastal location, it provides important migratory stopover habitat for landbirds, shorebirds and raptors. Wooded areas of park, including Willards Island, receive usage by migratory landbirds in both the spring and fall migration. There is also significant shorebird stopover habitat available, particularly for grassland species, including Killdeer, Black-bellied and American Golden Plover, and Pectoral, Buff-breasted and Upland Sandpiper. The area has been the site of a raptor banding station for several years, due to the significant raptor usage of the park. Cedars, other evergreens and shrub habitat offer significant roosting habitat for migrating owls such as Saw-whet, Barn and Long-eared. The park is a regionally important wintering/migration habitat for open country songbirds such as Snow Bunting and Horned Lark. The marsh is a regionally important wintering/migration area for American Bittern.
Phragmites and bittersweet are present but more or less contained. Purple Loosestrife has been present for about four years, and has resisted efforts to eliminate it with sprays and mechanical restoration. Great Horned Owl and Raccoon are both present, but their impact is probably minimal. Cats have been observed in the marsh and adjacent areas. Coyote have been present for several years and have been observed raiding nests in the marsh. They may be a significant problem for rails, Willet, marsh sparrows, plovers, and Least Terns. The park is heavily used at all seasons. Balances must be found between various incompatible uses. Loose Dogs and kite flying in areas of shorebird use create disturbance to birds. Discarded kite string and fishing line can be an entanglement hazard for birds. There is large-scale development planned for Griswold Airport, immediately adjacent to the salt marsh Natural Area Preserve. The Connecticut DEP, the USFWS, Connecticut Waterfowl Association, and Ducks Unlimited have undertaken marsh restoration projects.
State of Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection
Primary: Salt marsh, with large areas of mowed lawn. Secondary: deciduous forest, with fruit trees, scattered Black Pines, and cedars, marine, beach and estuary habitats in and adjacent to park.
Primary: Heavily used public recreation area and beach. Secondary: Nature and wildlife conservation, nature observation, fishing, environmental education.