State of the Beach/State Reports/CT/Beach Access

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Connecticut Ratings
Indicator Type Information Status
Beach Access96
Water Quality95
Beach Erosion5-
Erosion Response-5
Beach Fill5-
Shoreline Structures5 5
Beach Ecology5-
Surfing Areas--
Coastal Development{{{19}}}{{{20}}}
Sea Level Rise{{{21}}}{{{22}}}


The Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Grant Program (C.G.S. Section 7-131d to 7-131k, inclusive) provides financial assistance to municipalities and nonprofit land conservation organizations to acquire land for open space and to water companies to acquire land to be classified as Class I or Class II water supply property.

Grants may be for the purchase of land that is: 1) valuable for recreation, forestry, fishing, conservation of wildlife or natural resources; 2) a prime natural feature of the state's landscape; 3) habitat for native plant or animal species listed as threatened, endangered or of special concern; 4) a relatively undisturbed outstanding example of a native ecological community which is uncommon; 5) important for enhancing and conserving water quality; 6) valuable for preserving local agricultural heritage; or 7) eligible to be classified as Class I or Class II watershed land.

The Recreation and Natural Heritage Trust program was created by the Legislature in 1986 in order to help preserve Connecticut’s natural heritage. It is the Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) primary program for acquiring land to expand the state’s system of parks, forests, wildlife, and other natural open spaces. Through it, the DEP manages the acquisition of land of statewide significance that represents the ecological and cultural diversity of Connecticut, with a focus on unique features such as rivers, mountains, rare natural communities, scenic qualities, historic significance, connections to other protected land, and access to water.

The Green Plan, Guiding Land Acquisition and Protection in Connecticut 2007-2012 was released in September 2007. This document is an update of the original Green Plan (2001). The updated plan: 1) identifies the State’s future open space goals; 2) summarizes land acquisition and protection efforts to date; 3) discusses threats and challenges to open space protection; 4) identifies priorities for acquisition and protection; 5) describes the programs and funding available; and 6) outlines the process. This document is a strategic plan for land acquisition and protection for the State of Connecticut through 2012. As such, it provides general guidance for program managers, is a tool for those who want to work with the State in preserving land, and offers a basic overview for the public of the State’s land acquisition and protection program.

In 2002 the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that all municipal beaches must be opened to non-residents.

An article by Alison Leigh Cowan "Hitting the Beaches in Greenwich, Where Group Hugs Are Few" appeared in the New York Times on December 23, 2005. Below are excerpts from that article.

A glance at [Greenwich Connecticut's] ordinances makes it clear that anyone wishing to visit Greenwich's well-coiffed beaches must tread carefully. Visitors must refrain from climbing trees or digging in the sand, for instance, or playing horseshoes outside designated areas.

Groups are also prohibited unless they obtain a permit. But the definition of what constitutes a group - two people, three, five? - is not spelled out. And the Parks Department's discretion is so vast on the question that even a twosome could break the rules and may want to call the town before coming, according to the Greenwich town attorney.

That murkiness is at the heart of several bias complaints pending against the town before the state's Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities. They stem from the difficulties that three town residents say they faced in June when they tried to participate in a boot-camp style workout run by a personal trainer at Greenwich Point. They say members of their group had trouble getting past the gatekeeper and were yelled at when they parked in the wrong spot. During the first week of their workouts, they said, they were told they would need a permit to continue the following week. They learned later that they would not receive a permit.

An article The Sorry Saga Of Keeping CT's Beaches Closed appeared in the Hartford Courant on October 19, 2015. Below are excerpts from that article.

Most of the sandy coastline is controlled by towns, private owners or private beach associations, who have worked assiduously over the years to keep outsiders out.

After World War II, people flocked to the beaches, as towns passed ordinances keeping nonresidents out. Poor and minority bathers often had to swim at polluted urban beaches; it was pretty clear who the towns were keeping out. By the late 1960s all but seven of Connecticut's 253 miles of coastline and 72 miles of sandy beach were in private hands or effectively limited to residents of coastal towns.

Nothing changed until law student Brenden P. Leydon, who had been denied access to Greenwich Point beach, successfully sued to have the town's beach ban declared unconstitutional. Greenwich then upped the parking fees for nonresidents. So, other than a few more public beaches along the shore, the practitioners of "defensive localism" have won.

CDEP's Long Island Sound website has a nice Public Trust Fact Sheet that explains the public's rights along Connecticut's shore.

Site Inventory

Connecticut has 1,065 miles of shoreline affected by saline water, as calculated in 2005. That total mileage is segmented as follows:

  • 113 miles of shoreline directly fronting Long Island Sound and Fishers Island Sound
  • 219 miles of shoreline fronting bays, harbors and coves
  • 543 miles of shoreline fronting major and minor tidal rivers upstream to the limit of saline influence
  • 163 miles of island shoreline fronting Long Island Sound and tidal rivers
  • 27 miles of artificial fill shoreline fronting Long Island Sound and tidal rivers

36% of the shoreline in Connecticut is publicly owned according to Pogue P. and Lee V., 1999, "Providing Public Access to the Shore: The Role of Coastal Zone Management Programs," Coastal Management 27:219-237. A separate study indicates that only 20% of the shoreline is publicly owned.[1]

OLISP calculations in 2005 show that 23.5% of Connecticut’s 1,065 miles of shoreline affected by saline water is publicly owned.

The Connecticut Coastal Access Guide is now published online. Paper copies are no longer available. The online Guide identifies 317 sites where the public can access a variety of coastal public recreation areas such as beaches, campgrounds, fishing piers, parks, and boat launches. This corresponds to about one public access site for every 3.4 miles of shoreline, based on 1,065 miles of coast.

Lists of beaches in Connecticut, with information (description, location, amenities) can be found here and here.

Despite a historic settlement pattern of higher density development along Long Island Sound and its major tributaries, and other demographic, institutional, and geologic constraints to public recreation of its coast, the state has done a remarkable job in making its coast accessible to the general public. As noted above, there are 317 documented public access points to Connecticut's 1065 miles of coast, or an average of 0.28 sites per mile of coast. Of the 317 sites documented, 59.9% are municipally owned, 15.4% are state owned, and 15.4% are privately owned, 2.4% are federally owned and 6.9% are owned by private nonprofit landowners.

Additional information on state parks and land acquisition in Connecticut can be found on the CDEP Outdoor Recreation Web page.

The Connecticut State Parks Website provides a text description of individual parks, activities, services, location, fees, etc.

An article in the Fairfield Patch on April 10, 2011 discussed the current and proposed higher rates for beach access and parking in coastal towns.

The Town of Old Saybrook received the Connecticut Chapter of the American Planning Association’s 2004 Implementation Award in recognition of its coastal access improvement program. The program includes an inventory of potential coastal public access areas along Town rights-of-way that end at coastal waters, design recommendations for use by the public, and construction of public access facilities funded in part by the LIS License Plate Program.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced in 2014 that the former Seaside property in Waterford would become a state park. Officials said it would be the first state park created on the state's Long Island Sound coastline in more than 50 years.

Beach Attendance Records

Information on beach attendance in Connecticut was not readily available.

All the state's urban areas are within an hour's drive of the coast.

Economic Evaluation of Beaches

Detailed information on the economic evaluation of beaches in Connecticut was not readily available.

However, it has been estimated that overall state tourism generates $7.95 billion in gross state product, resulting in 110,000 jobs.

NOAA's Office for Coastal Management (OCM) has written a discussion of the recreational value of beaches, in the context of beach fill projects. In 2009 OCM released Introduction to Economics for Coastal Managers, a basic introduction to economic ideas and methods that can be applied to coastal resource management. The economic concepts provided in this introduction are illustrated through several case studies. Other OCM/Digital Coast publications can be found here.

The following two websites provide information on the economic value of coasts and the ocean throughout the country.

The National Ocean Economics Program (NOEP) provides a full range of the most current economic and socio-economic information available on changes and trends along the U.S. coast and in coastal waters. You can download data on jobs and GDP associated with specific types of coastal activities for each coastal state. You also can download data on commercial fishing and landings. The NOEP made public their fully updated Non-Market Valuation website in September 2008. The largest database in the world of studies documenting the environmental and recreational values of ocean resources, the website now includes 1) an updated methodologies section, 2) frequently asked questions, 3) examples of how Non-Market valuation influences public policy, and 4) an expanded table summarizing valuation estimates from across the United States. In 2014 NOEP released an updated State of the U.S. Ocean and Coastal Economies - 2014, which points out that there is an imbalance between the economic importance of coasts and coastal oceans and the federal support for stewardship of these resources. According to the report, coastal states supply over 81 percent of American jobs and contribute $13 trillion to the economy, or 84 percent of GDP. More on this here. The National Ocean Economics Program previously released State of the U.S. Ocean and Coastal Economies - 2009, which presents time-series data compiled over the past 10 years that track economic activities, demographics, natural resource production, non-market values, and federal expenditures in the U.S. coastal zone on land and water. The report states that coastal states account for more than 80 percent of the U.S. economy. The most recent report released by NOEP is the State of the U.S. Ocean and Coastal Economies - 2016. The Center for the Blue Economy (CBE) at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey now houses the National Ocean Economics Program (NOEP).

The website of Restore America's Estuaries has a report The Economic and Market Value of Coasts and Estuaries: What's At Stake?. According to the report, U.S. coasts and estuaries that have been protected and managed in a sustainable way are worth billions. Beaches, coastal communities, ports, and fragile bays are economic engines that drive and support large sectors of the national economy. The report focuses on aspects of coasts and estuaries that are most dependent on ecologically healthy conditions. The authors also examined a growing body of research that reveals the economic consequences of environmental change in coastal and estuary ecosystems.

A report A Review and Summary of Human Use Mapping in the Marine and Coastal Zone was published in December 2010. This report was prepared by ERG for NOAA's Coastal Services Center. The report evaluated different methods and approaches to measure human uses of the coastal and marine environment. The uses were divided into 1) military and industrial uses, 2) consumptive uses (e.g., fishing) and 3) non-consumptive activities (e.g., swimming, surfing, kayaking).

The economic value of beaches can increase or decrease due to a number of factors, including beach width; the presence or absence of amenities such as parking, restrooms or lifeguard services; the suitability of the beach for activities such as surfing or swimming; and the presence or absence of pollution and beach litter. In June 2014 NOAA published an infographic on the high cost of marine debris based on the report Assessing the Economic Benefits of Reductions in Marine Debris: A Pilot Study of Beach Recreation in Orange County, California, which was prepared by Industrial Economics, Inc. for NOAA's Marine Debris Division. It found that having debris on the beach and good water quality are the leading factors in deciding which beach residents visit. Reducing marine debris by even 25 percent at beaches in and near Orange County, California, could save residents approximately $32 million during the summer by not having to travel long distances to other beaches. Beach characteristics were collected for 31 popular Southern California public beaches from San Onofre Beach to Zuma Beach. Orange County residents were also surveyed on their recreation habits, including how many day trips they took to the beach from June - August 2013, where they went, how much it cost them, and which beach characteristics are important to them. The results provided in an estimate if how much Orange County residents would potentially benefit, including how often they visit beaches and how much they would save in travel costs, over a summer season by reducing marine debris at some or all of these 31 beaches. The study focused on Orange County because of the number and variety of beaches, their importance to permanent residents, ease of access, and likelihood that marine debris would be present. Researchers believe that, given the results, the study could be modified for assessing similar coastal communities in the United States.

For additional general discussion of the economic impacts of beaches, please see the article Economic Impact of Beaches.

Perception of Supply and Demand

According to OLISP’s 2005 assessment, sandy beaches, the most highly sought coastal access resource, comprise only 14% of the total shoreline in Connecticut. Little undeveloped large open space remains. Thus the Connecticut shoreline lacks an abundance of the most popular forms of recreation: swimming, boating, and fishing. Lack of funding for the acquisition of new access sites is an additional constraint. The sale price of coastal waterfront property relative to that of inland parcels often places coastal properties at a competitive disadvantage when trying to decide where to spend limited available funds.

Although Connecticut has made significant strides in improving public access to Long Island Sound's coastal lands and waters, given the limited resource potential for development of large-scale access opportunities, beach access remains a high priority. The public demand for swimming, boating, and fishing will likely continue to exceed the capacity of developed coastal access recreation areas. Saltwater bathing areas are limited partly by the state's coastal geology and partly by historic coastal land ownership and statewide settlement patterns. There is an unmet demand. Some state park bathing beaches occasionally must turn away patrons by mid-day on summer weekends when parking lots meet their capacity.

Similarly, most municipally owned shoreline parks providing saltwater swimming opportunities apparently are operating at full capacity during summer weekends. Similarly, state boat launch facilities on coastal and tidal waters are in great demand, but do not consistently meet the boating public's recreational needs on summer weekends. There is a heightened interest in public access as an important coastal issue. This presents an excellent, timely opportunity to promote and expand public access throughout Connecticut.

To further the cause of expanding coastal public access, the University of Connecticut's Center for Land Use and Research (CLEAR), sponsored by the Connecticut DEP Office of Long Island Sound Programs, is conducting the Coastal Area Land Cover Analysis Project (CALCAP) project. Part of the project is development and use of Coastal Land Assessment Methodology (CLAM).

CLAM is a spatial analysis project at the tax parcel scale to identify coastal Connecticut's most significant remaining unprotected waterfront or near-waterfront areas with high ecological and coastal recreation value. One hundred sixty undeveloped parcels larger than 25 acres with significant coastal resource value have been identified within Connecticut’s coastal boundary. Key selection criteria included parcel size, presence of coastal resources such as coastal waters or tidal wetlands, and proximity to protected open space. These parcels are being further assessed to determine ownership and conservation priority. Longer-term goals are to work with land trusts and municipal commissions to identify possible conservation opportunities for some of these properties. Project partners will develop acquisition strategies in cooperation with willing sellers, while other conservation mechanisms may be pursued by municipal land use and conservation agencies.

NOAA's OCRM Website has this text:

While Connecticut’s coastal municipalities only comprise 19 percent of the state’s land area, they are home to 35-40 percent of the state’s population. In addition, the entire state’s population lives within an hour’s drive from the coast. The state has a significant need to provide adequate public access to its coastal waters. However, with 70 percent of the Connecticut shore in private ownership and the high price of waterfront property, there have been few opportunities for the state to acquire land to increase the number of public access sites.

Despite these challenges, strong water-dependent use policies within the Connecticut Coastal Management Act (CCMA) have enabled Connecticut’s Office of Long Island Sound Programs (OLISP) to continue to expand access opportunities to Long Island Sound and the state’s coastal rivers. The CCMA’s water-dependent use policies require waterfront development to address water-dependent use criteria, including coastal access opportunities, as a condition of municipal development permits. OLISP staff work with municipalities to ensure that new or re-development projects along the state’s coastal waters incorporate some type of public access component—whether that be a waterfront walkway, fishing pier, viewing platform or simply a parking space and public access easement to walk to the shore. For example, one waterfront redevelopment project involved developing a 68 slip marina and residential condos. OLISP staff worked with the developer and municipality to set aside 34 of the slips for public use, and incorporate a wheelchair accessible, public access boardwalk and fishing pier into the design as well.

Public Education Program

According to the 2001 Assessment, Connecticut had identified the need to improve public awareness of existing coastal public access opportunities as well as provide new access areas. They have undertaken a coastal public access awareness program that includes the production of a Connecticut Coastal Access Guide and directional signs to guide motorists and pedestrians to access sites. They have also posted swimmer safety precautions on their website.

CDEP's Long Island Sound website has a nice Public Trust Fact Sheet that explains the public's rights along Connecticut's shore.

Contact Info

Office of Long Island Sound Programs
Bureau of Water Protection and Land Reuse
Department of Energy and Environmental Protection
79 Elm Street
Hartford, CT 06106-5127
Phone: 860-424-3034


  1. Vickey, Nicole. Understanding and Providing Public Access to Connecticut's Coast. Yale University Department of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

State of the Beach Report: Connecticut
Connecticut Home Beach Description Beach Access Water Quality Beach Erosion Erosion Response Beach Fill Shoreline Structures Beach Ecology Surfing Areas Website
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