New Sandy Point Partnership Off to Slow Start

By DAVID SMITH/ecoRI News contributor

Sandy Point in Little Narragansett Bay was supposed to have a new protector this year. But, according to the Stonington, Conn.-based Avalonia Land Conservancy, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service hasn’t been able to provide policing service nor has it been able to issue and check permits.

Avalonia, owner of the 35-acre island off the coasts of Rhode Island and Connecticut, worked out an agreement earlier this year with the Fish & Wildlife Service to provide enforcement of the nature preserve’s rules beginning this summer.

The lease was signed, according to the Fish & Wildlife Service refuge manager for Rhode Island, Charlie Vandemoer, but the agency was unable to set up the mechanism to collect fees and issue permits online as was expected by April. That permitting is still being handled by the Como Center in Borough of Stonington, Conn.

Binti Ackley, an Avalonia board member, said there has been no enforcement of the rules this year on Sandy Point. “I don’t get the impression that things are any worse this year at Sandy Point,” Binti said. “There are people complaining about dogs. The island is not patrolled.”

Ackley said she was on the island recently tagging horseshoe crabs and saw a group of people with two dogs. “I told them that dogs were not allowed on the island, regardless of whether they are on a leash,” she said. “They said they would comply but I didn’t wait around.”

Officials are concerned that dogs will walk into birds nests in the sand and either scare birds or kill nestlings. Some of the birds include piping plovers, a species listed as threatened. Fireworks being exploded on the island also have been a concern because of the endangerment to birds.

Vandemoer has said he expects to have the details worked out for next year to handle permit sales online. However, he said that contrary to the impression of Avalonia officials he has had personnel on the island to talk to visitors and educate them about conservation efforts for the sandy spit of land between Watch Hill and Stonington Harbor.

Vandemoer said that there hasn’t been a show of force on the island. “The first year is more about education,” he said. “We are just talking with people. If there is a situation then we would address it.”

There were Fish & Wildlife Service personnel on the island doing shorebird work beginning in April who were interacting with visitors, he noted. On Memorial Day, two staff members visited the island.

“Doing heavy law enforcement sends the wrong message,” Vandemoer said. “We can’t be out there 24 hours a day.”

The mile-long island is a popular summer hangout and picnic spot for boaters. It was once connected to Napatree Point, but that connection was severed during the 1938 hurricane. Part of Sandy Point is in Rhode Island and the other in Connecticut.

The land was given to the nonprofit in 1982 by the Alfred Gildersleeve family of Stonington, to be protected and kept as a nature preserve. The island serves as breeding ground for a variety of birds, including the least tern, roseate tern, piping plovers, American oystercatcher and herring gulls.

Avalonia officials say a lot of the problems stem from camping and parties, and the resulting litter.