A Day at the Beach

A Day at the Beach

I was expecting a bracing wind and frozen toes when I set out for a walk one morning. What I got was a day at the beach.

The thermometer read 23 degrees as I gathered my gear for a walk with my friend Heather at Silver Sands State Park in Milford. Even when it’s calm at home, the shore can be windy, so I was layered up: ski tights under sweats, a long-sleeved shirt under a fleece under my winter jacket, a hat, two pairs of gloves, neck warmer, boots, mask.

The temperature had risen into the 30s by the time we arrived, and the beach, patched with snow, was bathing in the sun. We started our walk from Milford’s Silver Sands parking area down a short spur of the boardwalk, which travels above the wetlands. Blonde grass tipped with sunlight rose from a snow-covered dune, and a lazy stream wandered toward the Sound. The tide was headed out, and the beach was striped with shells. Gulls gathered to pick through them for food. Their calls were gentle and efficient, and I considered that what I think of as a normal seagull cry might be territorial screeching around crowds of disruptive humans.

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On the horizon, Long Island swelled like an incoming wave. As we walked, I marveled at the quiet: no human voices, just the occasional car door slam or small aircraft in the distance. Otherwise, what we heard was the click of shells as the gulls stepped delicately through them, the quack of a green-headed mallard duck, the snap of wings as birds came in for landings, the lapping of water at the shore.

The National Audubon Society notes Silver Sands as the winter home of rough-legged hawks and snowy and short-eared owls, among other species. In addition to the ubiquitous gulls and ducks, we spotted sparrows flitting from the marsh grass and delighted at a flock of pigeons congregating on the boardwalk railing, where they hunched and stretched and jockeyed for position.

Parts of the 3/4-mile-long boardwalk were icy, so we split our time between sand and boards. I noted the differences between sand and snow underfoot, the sand silky as it gave way, the snow crunchy. Near the end of the boardwalk, we followed a high pier out to its end, which birds had apparently chosen as a prime spot for dropping and cracking shells. Heather tossed one squirming crab back into the water. Below us, ribs of sand traveled through the shallows, traversed by tiny wavelets arriving on the shore.

The boardwalk ends with a sidewalk extending through to Walnut Beach and the start of a long line of homes edging the coast. A small pavilion, a parking lot and a couple of volleyball nets signal a place that’s more active in the summer—but nothing like it was in the mid-20th century, when it was the site of an amusement park including carnival rides, a skating rink, arcade games, restaurants and summer cottages, as longtime resident Florence Zielinski recalled in Milford Living Magazine. “Gone are the many streets, homes, businesses, the amusement parks, and churches—all lost to hurricanes, the effects of WWII, and redevelopment more than 50 years ago,” she wrote in 2015.

According to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the state acquired Silver Sands “after Hurricane ‘Diane’ destroyed 75 homes in 1955. The City of Milford, needing help to renovate the battered beach, asked the Park Commission for help with the nearly overwhelming task.” As we wandered the beach, we noticed old pipes and pilings and what appeared to be fences buried in the sand, perhaps remnants of that community.

Eventually, we retraced our route and walked out on the sand bar—technically a tombolo—toward Charles Island. At low tide, it’s possible to walk all the way onto this uninhabited bird sanctuary half a mile from shore. Stern signage on the beach warns not to attempt this when there’s water on the bar or when the tide is coming in. You’re also not allowed on the island from May 1 to September 9 while piping plovers and others are nesting. The water hadn’t receded quite enough to land us on the island, which has served as a failed tobacco farm, a private residence, a summer resort, a fish fertilizer company outpost and a Catholic retreat before being purchased by the state, according to Wikipedia.

By the time we returned to the parking lot it was close to midday, and more people were showing up to walk. We no longer had the beach essentially to ourselves. But we did have the memory of an unexpectedly pleasant morning.

Silver Sands State Park
Silver Sands Parkway, Milford (map)
Daily 8am-sunset

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. This updated story was originally published on December 29, 2020.

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