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Cockenoe Island visits restricted by lingering Sandy impact

Updated 6:33 am, Saturday, May 11, 2013

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  • Piles of debris and rocks swept onto Cockenoe Island by Superstorm Sandy obliterated campsites and fire pits, prompting officials this week to prohibit overnight camping and fires on the island.  WESTPORT NEWS, CT 5/8/13 Photo: Westport Conservation Department / Westport News contributed
    Piles of debris and rocks swept onto Cockenoe Island by Superstorm Sandy obliterated campsites and fire pits, prompting officials this week to prohibit overnight camping and fires on the island. WESTPORT NEWS, CT 5/8/13 Photo: Westport Conservation Department

 

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It's been six months since Hurricane Sandy swept through the region, but its devastating impact is still being felt.

Until further notice, officials said this week that overnight camping and fires are not allowed on Cockenoe Island, where the four campsites and fire pits were wiped out by the storm.

"There are four campsites that are out there, and they were either disassembled, moved, inundated with large rocks or wrack debris," Alicia Mozian, director of conservation, said of the storm damages.

The wrack debris is like eight inches to a foot deep at one of the sites. Another site is covered with these pretty large cobbles that you probably wouldn't want to put a tent on."

For decades, the town's Conservation Department has issued overnight camping permits at the four sites on the 18-acre island, each of which accommodates two tents. Permits are required May 15 through Oct. 15. Current cost is $20 per night, and Mozian said the weekends are regularly booked solid throughout the summer.

"There's no latrine," she said. "You have to either go back on your boat, or you're supposed to bring your own portable latrine.

"The wrack debris is probably filled with who-knows-what underneath it, (and) it's a good breeding ground for little no-see-ums and flies, not to mention the fact that with it being so dry, it's a high fire danger. You want to clear that stuff out before you can set up a camping fire pit.

Several years ago, as part of an Eagle Scout's service project, fire pits and benches were built on the island, but they all were washed away during the storm.

Visitors are still allowed to visit Cockenoe Island during the day, but Mozian asked that during this season they also take care not to disturb birds that are nesting there. They should take particular care on the south side of the island, where a heron rookery is located, "and it's very active right now," she said.

Other shorebirds, such as oyster catchers, plovers and terns also will soon begin nesting on the sand spit on the west side of the island. "Those eggs are camouflaged," Mozian cautioned. "They look just like the sand and it's easy to step on them."

Mozian is seeking volunteers to help repair Cockenoe's storm damage and assist in a cleanup, which she said will probably not be completed before June.

"I almost need to go out there again to do a real plan of action," she said. "I may have to move some of the campsites and I need to do that at high tide." She also said the number of sites may have to be reduced.

"On the southern side of the island there was a lot of erosion of the bluff," she said. Also, the sand spit extending off the west side of the island has gotten wider and longer.

"Nature does its own thing," she said. "The island always changes, but these storms really accelerate the changes by eroding the higher parts and redistributing things."

Anyone interested in helping with Cockenoe Island restoration efforts should call the Conservation Department at 203-341-1170.