Harkness Memorial Park a great destination for a picnic, nature walk
By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Regional - posted Tue., Jul. 30, 2013
Harkness Memorial State Park encompasses 230 acres along Long Island Sound in Waterford. Eolia, the Roman Renaissance Classical Revival-style mansion at the park, belonged to the Harkness family. With 42 rooms, a pergola, a carriage house and lush gardens on all sides, the home was built in 1906 and purchased by Edward and Mary Harkness in 1907.
According to the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, “The 200+ acres were a working farm and the mansion served as the Harkness’ summer home.” The estate was left to the State of Connecticut in 1950, became part of the State Park system in 1952, and underwent extensive renovations beginning in November of 1996. Today, the mansion is open for tours weekends and holidays from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day. The first tour of the day starts at 10 a.m. and the last at 2 p.m. Eolia is also available for weddings, private parties, seminars, conferences, luncheons and teas.
On a recent overcast Friday afternoon, the mansion was closed to the public but there were still quite a few people on the grounds of the park. There are picnic tables and grills situated throughout the property. The wide-open, expansive lawns provide the perfect location for kite-flying, Frisbee, football, softball and other activities. Leashed dogs are welcome in much of the park. There are clean public restrooms. There is a beach which is perfect for walking, shell-collecting, hermit-crab-spotting and sandcastle-building, though swimming is not permitted and there is no lifeguard on-site. Fishing is permitted, and according to the DEEP, “blackfish, bluefish and striped bass can be caught off the rocky point and summer flounder off the beach.”
For nature-lovers, Harkness offers plenty of opportunities for observing critters of all kinds. There are nesting platforms, several of which currently house massive osprey nests. There are seagulls, terns and cormorants to watch, fishing in the waters near the shore. Chipmunks, squirrels, groundhogs and wild rabbit inhabit the woods, and can frequently be seen venturing out to feast in the grassy areas. There are birds of all kinds, including European starlings, mourning doves, robins, catbirds, mocking birds, swallows, goldfinches and many others. There are two wildlife viewing platforms along Goshen Cove, and there is a natural preserve area.
The formal gardens surrounding the mansion are beautifully maintained, and sport a variety of different flowers, depending upon the season. A recent tour revealed Rose of Sharon, daylily, rose and balloon flower blossoms, among many others. Bring a camera if you enjoy photographing flora and fauna.
Harkness Memorial State Park is located at 275 Great Neck Road in Waterford. Call 860-443-5725 for more information. The park is open 8 a.m. to sunset year-round. There is a charge for parking, which varies according to the season, the day of the week, and the time of day. On weekends and holidays during the main part of the day, parking is $6 for Connecticut residents and $9 for out-of-state vehicles.
For a cool treat after an afternoon picnic, head over to Michael’s Dairy on the campus of Mitchell College (629 Montauk Ave., New London). Michael's Dairy has been in operation for more than 60 years and has been located adjacent to Mitchell College since the founding of the institution in 1938. Michael's Dairy serves ice cream and frozen yogurt, including sundaes, milkshakes and floats. It is open until 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday and Sunday, and until 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.