Ecotourism is blooming in Connecticut, with those seeking recreation while leaving a minimal carbon footprint flock to its forests, beaches, vineyards, arboretums and eco-friendly, organic farms. Connecticut is very much a farm state and an outdoors state, and its people as well as those who visit not only are drawn to nature, but applaud those who guard and protect it. The Nutmeg State has a great deal to offer those who wish to recreate themselves amidst natural surroundings.
Bushnell Park is one of the greenest spaces in the state, and is open to all. This green jewel was designed during the Civil War by Jacob Weidenmann, a colleague of the famed architect and creator of New York’s Central Park, Frederick Law Olmstead. Bushnell Park is many things – including an arboretum. Its grounds are planted with over 1,100 specimens of nearly 160 kinds of trees, bushes and shrubbery. The grand open-air space is also marked by a massive monument to veterans of the Civil War, a carousel, a fountain and a performance pavilion. Olmstead, although a Hartford native, regretted being unable to work on the park due to his previous commitments in New York, although his son’s firm participated in the redesign in the early 20th century.
Hammonasset Beach State Park & Meigs Point Nature Center
Connecticut is renowned for its shoreline, but most of its beaches are either restricted to residents of the local municipality or are private property. Hammonasset Beach, however, belongs to everyone, and is accessible to all for a small fee. Its two miles of sandy beach are part of a state park, and one that, while it does have a boardwalk area and campsites, is also committed to being green. In addition to the usual sand and sea activities (sunbathing, fishing, boating, sailing, camping, surfing and picnicking etc), Hammonasset is also the home to the Meigs Point Nature Center, a year-round environmental education center that is popular with school groups, tourists and locals. It is supported in large part by a local non-profit, Friends of Hammonasset. The Nature Center is also home to many amphibian and aquatic animals, most of whom were rescued after being injured. Director “Ranger Russ” Miller hosts many tours himself and is passionate about teaching visitors how they can help preserve and protect the shore environment.
Connecticut Wine Trail
The State of Connecticut and many travel agencies who promote ecotourism agree that the Connecticut Wine Trail is a must-see spot not only for those who enjoy good wine but also for people who want to see a “green” industry up close. The Connecticut Vineyard and Winery Association has marked the 25 participating wineries across the state with bright blue-and-white roadside signs. Whether it is a day of “chocolate and wine” or “wine and yoga” at Sunset Meadow Vineyards in Goshen or a Friday evening of live music and wine at Paradise Hills Vineyard in Wallingford, there is always something going on somewhere along the Connecticut Wine Trail.
Despite its long shore line and numerous small cities, Connecticut is first and foremost a farm state – and most of its farms are still owned and operated by the descendants of the families who first cleared the land. Connecticut family farmers are also famous for taking the lead in being green – eschewing chemicals and taking the sustainable, organic and farm-to-table route instead. Bishop’s Orchards in the shore town of Guilford is one such farm, and has been since the family began working the land there in 1871. Bishop’s is a mecca for the “pick your own” crowd, and in addition to its huge farm stand and market, also has a bakery and winery – as well as herds of alpacas, llamas and goats. A fun place to shop and tour, Bishop’s Orchards is an example of Connecticut green business – and farming – at its best.
American Legion and Peoples State Forests
Connecticut has many forests and woodlands, but those protected as state parks, notably the American Legion and Peoples State Forests of the Northwest Corner, are among the most popular and friendly for ecotourists. Fishing, camping and nature walks on their many trails, not to mention their lovely lakes and musical waterfalls, make this pair of state forests very attractive to visitors. The Nature Center, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was one of the first of its kind in the country and is a must-stop for any tourists, green or otherwise.
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Mark G. McLaughlin is a professional and prolific writer with a proven publishing record in a wide variety of fields. An historian, novelist, freelance journalist, ghost-writer, book reviewer, magazine editor, web and magazine columnist, Mark has more than 30 years of experience. His work can be found at Examiner.com.