History - The Norwalk Seaport Association was founded in 1978 by a group of local citizens who had a vision to revitalize South Norwalk and preserve Norwalk’s maritime heritage. The first Oyster Festival was planned to increase awareness of Norwalk harbor and as a fundraiser for the new organization. The Association received IRS 501(C) (3) status in March, 1980.
The Seaport became the catalyst in the drive for a maritime center, now the Maritime Aquarium of Norwalk, which sparked the resurgence in South Norwalk that continues to this day. The Norwalk Seaport Association is a founding member of the Maritime Aquarium and has a seat on its Board of Directors.
With the goal of building a maritime center accomplished, the Norwalk Seaport Association continued to fulfill its mission through the purchase of the Sheffield Island Lighthouse and Keeper’s Cottage in 1986. The Lighthouse and Cottage were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989.
The annual Oyster Festival, sponsored by the Norwalk Seaport Association, is an integral part of the culture of Norwalk, has evolved into a community service event, where over $200,000 is raised by various community groups to be distributed throughout the region in fulfillment of their missions.
Governance Structure – By-Laws allow for a minimum of 15 and a maximum of 30 Trustees, there are currently 30 elected trustees. Eleven Board meetings are held each year.
The Norwalk Seaport Association’s strengths include: Longevity – will be celebrating 37 years in 2015; integral part of community and culture in Norwalk; ownership of Sheffield Island Lighthouse; organizer of the Annual Oyster Festival (38 years in 2015).
Mission – The Norwalk Seaport Association offers a cultural, environmental, and historical journey to the Norwalk Islands. The Sheffield Island Lighthouse and the Light Keeper’s Cottage provide a unique historical and educational venue which strives to increase awareness, appreciation and consideration for our environment and how the preservation of historic buildings and nature contribute to our quality of life.
It is our belief that preservation strengthens the perpetual partnership between the past, the present and the future. The combination of the Lighthouse and the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge offers an unparalleled opportunity to educate children of all ages and adults about the importance of preserving Long Island Sound, our environment and maritime heritage.
Target Population and Programs – Through the combination of our educational programs and public access to Sheffield Island, the Norwalk Seaport Association serves all ages, ethnicities, and socio-economic groups both children and adults. Our summer programs serve the entire community with a special focus on elementary/middle school children from low to moderate income families. The Sheffield Island Lighthouse Ferry provides the only public access to the Norwalk Islands. Tours of the Lighthouse and nature trails are conducted by Norwalk Seaport staff.
The Norwalk Seaport Association is a recognized Friends organization of the National Wildlife Refuge System, in particular, the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge. This Refuge consists of ten separate locations along 70 miles of the Connecticut coast between Westbrook and Greenwich. The Norwalk Seaport Association is a Friends group for the Norwalk Islands unit of the Refuge. The forest and shrub lands of the Norwalk Islands provide regionally significant habitat for colonial nesting wading birds and other migratory species.