Norwalk’s Peach Island Protected (CT)
Norwalk, CT, 3/30/2005 – Cornelius D. (Neil) Mahoney, who grew up in Norwalk, remembers playing on Peach Island as a child. When he learned the Island could be up for sale, he made a gift to the Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national nonprofit conservation organization, to support their efforts to protect the Island. Fulfilling Mahoney’s dream of preserving Peach Island forever, TPL announced today it has transferred Peach Island to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to become part of the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge. TPL purchased the 2.6-acre island from the Norwalk Seaport Association, after months of talks between the two groups on how to achieve a conservation outcome for the island.
Mahoney’s gift came at a crucial juncture, enabling TPL to become involved in the project and to quickly buy the island. Mahoney said, “I was delighted to help TPL protect Peach Island and made my gift in honor of my parents, Joe and Kay Mahoney, who lived in the Harbor View neighborhood next to the island. The permanent protection of Peach Island is a satisfying legacy. My parents would have been delighted.”
Tim Northrop, TPL Connecticut State Director, also credited the teamwork of the Connecticut Congressional delegation in securing funding from the Land and Water Conservation fund, which allowed the USFWS to add the island to the Refuge. According to Senator Joseph Lieberman, “Peach Island is a critical part of Connecticut’s natural heritage. By enabling the McKinney Wildlife Refuge to acquire Peach Island, we are upholding our moral obligation to preserve this wonder of nature for future generations to enjoy.”
“Peach Island may be small but its natural beauty looms large,” added Senator Christopher Dodd. “I’m pleased that that this environmental treasure will be protected and preserved for years to come.”
Congressman Christopher Shays said, “Peach Island is a beautiful place and I am so grateful it will be preserved for future generations as part of the McKinney Refuge thanks to the Trust for Public Land, the Norwalk Seaport Association and the Fish and Wildlife Service.”
“Peach Island’s unique habitat will be a great addition to the McKinney Wildlife Refuge,” remarked Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro. “Today’s announcement demonstrates that the preservation of the Connecticut shoreline remains a national priority, and requires the continued support of private landholders, the federal government and others. I am proud to be a part of this continued bipartisan effort.”
Peach Island is located in Norwalk Harbor, about 500 feet from shore. It is named after the peach trees that were planted there years ago. Its salt marsh, sandy beach, woodland and thickets are typical of the Norwalk Islands and provide excellent wildlife habitat. The Island’s nearness to shore makes its preservation important for scenic views in the Harbor.
Mahoney, who is Chairman/President/CEO of Woronoco Bankcorp, Inc. in Westfield, MA, said he was happy to help preserve the island he enjoyed as a child. He recalled that when he was growing up, he and his neighborhood friends often swam or rowed to the island at low tide to play and explore. “I have so many fond memories of the island, and I wanted to make sure that it was preserved and enjoyed by future generations.” he said. “I’m very pleased that a successful conservation organization like TPL, a group I wanted to support, has helped achieve this dream.”
TPL purchased the island from the Norwalk Seaport Association, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to foster public awareness of the region’s marine environment and heritage through education and preservation. The Seaport Association was gifted the land in 1998. Several years ago, the organization announced it was seeking to sell Peach Island for financial reasons, and contacted TPL to help preserve the island, rather than actively pursue commercial development. Seaport Association officials said the purchase by TPL meets its dual objectives: helping to preserve the environmental integrity of Peach Island and the surrounding Norwalk Harbor, as well as the future financial health of the organization, founded in 1978.
“The Seaport Association was grateful to be entrusted with the precious natural asset represented by Peach Island,” said its president Tom Kies. “However, as a local nonprofit challenged with continuing our mission of maritime education and preservation of the historic Sheffield Island Lighthouse, it makes both environmental and fiscal sense to place Peach Island into hands better equipped to create and maintain habitats there. We’re pleased to have been part of such a successful partnership with TPL, Mr. Mahoney and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.”
Andrew C. French, Project Leader for the McKinney Refuge, said “The investment of Peach Island in the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge represents a very important contribution toward the quality of life for plants, fish, wildlife, and people. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is very appreciative of the assistance and leadership provided by the Trust for Public Land.”
The Harborview Beach Company, a group of neighbors near Peach Island, had been concerned about the fate of the island for some time. Bob Gonya, President of the Company, stated, “On behalf of the entire Harbor View community, the Board of Directors wishes to thank Mr. Neil Mahoney for his gift, as well as the Trust for Public Land, the Norwalk Seaport Association and our Congressional delegation for helping make this possible. The conservation of Peach Island, inspired by our Centennial celebration is more than we ever could have hoped for. Mr. Mahoney’s love of Harbor View and his desire to protect its environment for future generations are ideals shared by all our residents. We are delighted and will be forever grateful that he has chosen this unique and caring way of demonstrating his commitment to those ideals.”
The McKinney Refuge is comprised of more than 1000 acres stretching along 45 miles of Connecticut coastline, including two Norwalk Islands, Chimon and Sheffield. Once Peach Island’s habitat is restored, it will provide a home for breeding gulls, cormorants, herons, egrets and ibises. Tidal flats within the Norwalk Harbor that surround Peach Island are one of the most important feeding areas for wading birds in the vicinity.
Concluded Northrop of TPL, “We thank Senators Christopher Dodd and Joseph Lieberman, and Reps. Christopher Shays and Rosa DeLauro for their support of land conservation, and particularly of the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge. We’re thrilled to have been a part of the team effort that has enabled Peach Island to remain in a natural and open state forever, serving as a sanctuary for both wildlife and people to enjoy.”
The Trust for Public Land (TPL) is a national nonprofit organization which works with others to conserve land for people to enjoy as working landscapes, parks, gardens, and natural areas, ensuring livable communities for generations to come. TPL is celebrating the 10th anniversary of its Connecticut program (1995-2005) and the protection of more than 4,000 acres of open space, watershed land, working farms and forestland, and historic resources in 32 communities across the state. For more information, please visit www.tpl.org/connecticut.
Founded in 1978, the Norwalk Seaport Association is a nonprofit environmental, preservation and maritime educational organization. Each year the Seaport Association sponsors the Norwalk Oyster Festival, one of the largest festivals of its kind in the nation and its major fundraiser. It also provides maritime education for more than 25,000 students per year and preserves the historic Sheffield Island Lighthouse in Norwalk Harbor. The Seaport Association has its headquarters at 132 Water Street, Norwalk, Connecticut 06854. For more information call (203) 838-9444 or visit www.seaport.org.