Biking Savin Rock Boardwalk West Haven

Savin Rock Boardwalk in Westport
Savin Rock Boardwalk in Westport

A former amusement park in West Haven is now the center of a public waterfront that draws in walkers, joggers, bikers, sun bathers, kite fliers, and people watchers from the surrounding area. It probably would draw in tourists looking to stretch out their legs or have a picnic lunch - but there is no parking for non-residents. So, if you want to get a peek at how "Waste Haven" turned around its prime resource you will have to sneak in from the wings.

Savin Rock Boardwalk - West Haven
Savin Rock Boardwalk - West Haven
I learned about the boardwalk in West Haven in a sort of awkward way: I was reading the paper and read a headline that refered to an incident where a gentleman was trying to sell handguns on the boardwalk. I looked past the article and immediately latched onto the idea that a community in Connecticut might have tried to take some sort of socio-economic advantage of Connecticut's greatest resource. No, it couldn't be! - miles of pavement for biking and walking adjacent to groomed beaches and a picturesque shoreline? - lined with retail shops and cafes? - a place of public vibrancy?, a show of civic pride and virtue? I had to investigate.

Savin Rock Boardwalk - West Haven Ct
Savin Rock Boardwalk - West Haven Ct
The Savin Rock Boardwalk is most of these things - but not quite. It lacks clusters of retail and eateries - the energy of commerce. But, the basics - waterfront, wide walking and biking trails, parks, restrooms, groomed beaches, benches, boccie ball and horseshoe courts, and even a respectable skate park are all in place.  I have to say that I am in a shuddering state of shock - I mean - couldn't this prime real estate by parceled, sold, and hedged in? How did a community like West Haven come to this rare, dare I say socialist, civic ownership? How is it possible that a city council in Connecticut managed to conceive of the idea that land and air and water might be shared and that this sharing might establish an identity that in turn raises the profile and overall integrity of the city itself?

The answer is an interesting and still painful history. Almost the entire shoreline of West Haven was once a series of amusement parks, resorts, and drive-in restaurants. The White City was at the center of it all and has been replaced by a small park. In the 1950's the entrepreneurs of the amusement parks failed to invest in their futures and let their buildings and structures decline to the point of being condemned. Gambling and other illegal activities began to thrive. To combat this, West Haven secured a federal urban renewal grant and founded the West Haven Redevelopment Commission in the late 1950's. That is when the idea of the boardwalk emerged, and it has been in development since.

Savin Rock Conference Center & Museum - West Haven CT
Savin Rock Conference Center & Museum - West Haven CT
 The shoreline trail is officially only 2 miles - but you can continue through on a Veteran's Walk and along public access beaches on Ocean Avenue to South Street. I parked at the skate park in Morse Park - and there were no visible signs warning non-residents not to invade this private sheltered community at risk of severe consequences (unlike at all the other convenient parking lots). There is supposedly a legitimate parking at West Haven High School near

Savin Rock Boardwalk, West Haven Connecticut
Savin Rock Boardwalk, West Haven Connecticut
Bradley point.

I don't know why West Haven is referred to as "Waste Haven". 
But, I will say that on a perfect 90 degree day the beach was totally empty. There are several websites and reviews that recommend against swimming in the water here. There is no evidence that there is a history of toxic dumping at these beaches - for its entire history this land has been used for resorts and recreation. The lack of swimmers is probably due to a generalized social anxiety and fear of any non-chlorinated water. As stagnant as Long Island Sound may be - it is still the ocean. The water is still Atlantic Ocean water just like it is in Maine or North Carolina.

There are changing rooms and real restrooms along the trail near Palace Drive. Fishing piers and breakwaters regularly punctuate the shoreline. Benches and picnic tables abound. And, there are a few restaurants tucked in. Jimmies probably has the best property - immediately adjacent to the trail and with an outdoor seating patio. Reviews are mixed - but Jimmies is perhaps the last remnant of the historic amusement park era. So, for history's sake you could try a split hot dog on the outdoor deck.

If West Haven could turn a few of the empty parking lots into micro-retail centers - they could offer a coffee shop, bike shop, and kite store. I'm sure such stores would do well with all of the morning walkers and explorers like me. And, retail would bring some energy to the area. A few tweaks, and West Haven could be a real local destination.

Till then, Savin Rock Trail works well for a morning walk or casual bike ride.

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Address for your GPs: 400 Captain Thomas BlvdWest Haven, CT 06516
| Cooridinates: N41.257612,W072.949418 |
From Bridgeport30 Minutes
From New Haven15 Minutes
From Hartford1 Hour
From New London1 hour
From Providence2 Hours
From New York2 Hours