Pleasure Beach: A Place for Birds and People
Today nature is erasing human traces on Pleasure Beach, and a threatened bird population still keeps a toehold. Despite concerns that development and birds are considered more important than people, there are those, like community leader Ted Meekins, who think people and plovers can happily coexist.
Meekins recently helped beat back a renegade rock-crushing operation that was filling the East End with dust. A retired police officer, in the early 1970s he formed the Bridgeport Guardians to fight rampant racial discrimination on the force. In 1983 the group's work led to a landmark court decision putting the department under what turned out to be almost 30 years of federal oversight. When the Guardians formed, there were no minority officers above the rank of patrolman on the Bridgeport force. Since then, it has had two black and one Hispanic chiefs.
When he was a boy, Meekins spent his summers at Pleasure Beach. Possessed of a gravelly voice and an air of authority that reflects his long police service, Meekins speaks of the "glory days," crossing the rickety bridge, boarding the miniature trolley that carried people to the beach, fishing off the dock, and staying over into evening to catch memorable music shows at the Pleasure Beach Ballroom.
"I'm hoping and praying that the Bridgeport community will finally get access to Pleasure Beach," Meekins says. He scoffs at the idea of conflict between birds and people, counting bird activists, such as Audubon Connecticut's Patrick Comins, as allies. Both would like to see local kids employed as "beach stewards" and spreading the gospel that there's room for everyone on Pleasure Beach.
That vision is closer to reality. Audubon Connecticut and the Connecticut Audubon Society have a $117,000 federal grant they're putting toward enhancing the stewardship and monitoring of coastal waterbirds along the Connecticut shore of Long Island Sound, with help from the state DEP and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The organizations not only plan to expand the existing corps of volunteers who monitor birds but want to develop a summer job program for Bridgeport kids, who will serve as "wildlife guards."
"They will tell people about the importance of some of the rarest wildlife species in the country, and also explain the vital role of barrier beaches and why these birds have chosen to nest there," says Sandy Breslin, director of governmental affairs and Comins's colleague at Audubon Connecticut. And the threatened birds could actually do better with humans as neighbors, because people act as a deterrent to foxes, raccoons, and other nest predators. Breslin adds that ecotourism could create employment by attracting some of the nearly 1.2 million Connecticut residents who take part in wildlife watching.
The fear that Pleasure Beach will end up as a bird reserve, off-limits to people, is unwarranted. Under any usage scenario likely to get to first base, nesting sites, ball fields, and acres of inviting sand will likely coexist. Visitors are always going to be welcome, whether their goal is watching piping plovers through binoculars or catching a wave. If Bridgeport residents can be convinced of that, and as much-delayed plans to reopen the city's long-neglected resource are finally realized, Pleasure Beach may once again live up to its name.