A plane flew low over the marshes of Long Island Sound, and I stood at the edge of a crumbling runway wondering if the pilot might start descending, forgetting that Griswold Airport is now just a distant memory.
On a warm summer morning, I stood on the old runway and tried to decipher the number or letter denoted by broken paint chips under a jungle of weeds. It's the only tangible evidence of the Madison airport where hundreds of pilots learned to fly.
The 42-acre site was saved from development four years ago by The Trust For Public Land and the Town of Madison.
Slated for a cluster of 127 apartments, townhouses and single-family homes, the town purchased the property for $9 million. It has used much of the land for the creation of three soccer fields while also preserving a 25-acre patch of coastal forest for trails and passive recreation. It was recently named Salt Meadow Park.
Although the parking area, trails and fields have been installed and people are enjoying the passive aspects of the park, the gates remain closed at times, making people wonder whether it's open or not. Although there is a free parking area just to the east of the entrance to Hamonasset Beach State Park, it's about a half-mile walk along Route 1 to get to the park.
It's well worth the walk to explore the marshes and coastal forest with 400 feet of footage along the Hammonasset River and a 2,000-foot salt marsh bordering the popular state park.
Ever since I heard of the town's purchase, I had been waiting to explore it. Then after chaperoning my daughter's field trip to the park's Meigs Point Nature Center recently and some small talk with the volunteer staff, I discovered that the park was indeed open for visitors.
So after parking in the lot, I made my way east along Route 1, past clam shacks and a gas station to the gates to the park. Visitors should remain on the gravel pathways, since the soccer field grass is still in a fragile growing stage. After crossing the large parking area, visitors are met with a panaromic view of the Hammonasset River and the vibrant green of the marshes. A canoe and kayak launch will be installed, offering access to the river.
It's still easy to detect where the airport's runway was from the 1930s to the mid-2000s. A gravel path brings visitors along the entire course of the old runway. A patch of runway somehow escaped the town's cleanup and remains crumbling at the southern end of the property, giving vistors more views out to the marshes and state park.
But the highlight is the loop trail that passes through the scrub oaks, cedars and evergreens of the coastal forest, a rarity in the state's highly developed shoreline. The path isn't marked, but is easy to follow, with numerous overlooks of the river and marshes out to the state park's Cedar Island and Willard Island.
What I'd ask is that Madison just open the gates to Salt Meadow Park. It's a shoreline beauty that needs to be enjoyed.
Take I-95 to exit 62 and follow Route 450 to Route 1. Take a left at the light. The park is about a mile on the right just past a gas station. If the gates are closed, there is free state parking area just to the east of the entrance to Hammonasset Beach State Park.