Western ‘Front

Western ‘Front

A warm, persistent wind frothed up whitecaps on Long Island Sound one hot August afternoon. It wasn’t a great day for a swim, but it was a great day for a walk along the beach, and there’s no better place for a local beach stroll than West Haven, where a paved boardwalk, running from a condominium complex at one end to Bradley Point Park at the other, travels about 1.7 miles of the city’s sandy coastline.

Diversions abound: Walk out to the end of one of several piers and watch the big ships on the horizon. Park your lawn chair in the shade of a locust tree and read a book. Wander and read the memorials at Bradley Point Park’s Veterans Walk of Honor. Amble out on the point itself and climb down the boulders to the tide pools or sit on one of the many benches and watch egrets bathe among the sea grass. Take the kids to one of the playgrounds. Watch the old-timers play bocce (sorry, West Haven residents only). Rent a paddle board, kayak or bike from Savin Rock Surf Shop. Shoot photos in a seaside gazebo lush with trumpet vines. Scarf down some traditional beach fare at local institutions Stowe’s, Turk’s or—apparently more for the view than the food these days—Jimmies.

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On a weekday afternoon, there was plenty of space to enjoy it all without the crush of crowds. A lone parasailor struggled to rig his craft on the beach while, a short distance away, a bare-chested little boy chased the seagulls, arms waving, path looping. Farther up the boardwalk, several women walked alone or in pairs. Just off the coast, waves splashed against the shoals. Even at high tide, the ragged black tops of old wooden pilings were keeping their heads above water.

I paused at a massive, overgrown rock formation where a plaque reads, “On July 5, 1779 during the American Revolution Brigadier General Garth, with his First Division landed with 1,000 British soldiers and marched up Savin Avenue to the Green.” The major road through town, Campbell Avenue, is named for one of those soldiers, who the West Haven Historical Society notes “is believed to be the only foreign soldier buried on American soil with honors.” A Wikipedia entry reports that the sentry with a spyglass who appears on the city’s seal represents a real militiaman who watched for British ships from atop this formation.

West Haven’s waterfront is actually a three and a half-mile stretch of different but connected public beaches, including Dawson, Seabluff, Bradley Point, Oak Street, Altschuler and Morse. Past Morse Park to the east, a sandy 60-acre spit of beach and marshland directly across the harbor from Fort Nathan Hale is home to the beautiful Sandy Point Bird Sanctuary, but I didn’t venture that far. The walk out and back from my parking spot at Bradley Point was far enough, and a storm was brewing.

West Haven’s waterfront is without a doubt a lovely spot to reach the water and face that long, flat horizon. But despite the presence of lifeguard stands up and down the shore, there’s some debate as to whether you should actually swim here. According to Save the Sound’s Sound Health Explorer, which offers yearly bacterial pollution data on the waters lapping Connecticut’s beaches, West Haven’s have gotten less-than-stellar report cards for swimming safety in the past. Still, recent grades have landed mostly in the A range, echoing Savin Rock Surf Shop owner Kevin Darcey’s sense that the water’s been getting “better every year.”

In the end, you don’t have to dip a toe in the water to enjoy West Haven’s sea breezes and shell-strewn sand. I would have liked to have stayed much longer. Instead, from the far end of the boardwalk, I raced the storm. The outline of clouds directly above nearly mirrored the shape of the shoreline, with curtains of gray shifting to the north. Thunder boomed like artillery through the moist air, a reminder of scarier days on this coast that has seen so much.

West Haven beaches
Along Beach St, Captain Thomas Blvd & Ocean Ave, West Haven
Open daily 6am-10:30pm
Lot parking for non-residents: $2.50/hour

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. This updated story was originally published on September 7, 2018.

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