Milford prides itself on its shore, but how much of it is public?

Woodmont Beach was named by Save the Sound as one of the ten best in the state this year for water quality, in Milford, Conn. on Thursday, June 10, 2021.

Woodmont Beach was named by Save the Sound as one of the ten best in the state this year for water quality, in Milford, Conn. on Thursday, June 10, 2021.

Brian A. Pounds/Hearst Connecticut Media

MILFORD — Milford has 17.5 miles of coastline made up of public beaches, private homes, docks, and more, but just how much of it is accessible to the general public?

According to Jeremy Grant, director of open spaces, the answer is just about all of it. 

"There are about 15 main beaches in the city, so there's a lot of different spots people can go and enjoy the shore," he said.

However, Grant pointed out the terrain along the coastline varies.

"We have pristine beaches like Walnut or Woodmont Beach, but we also have areas that are retaining walls, rock walls. We have the harbor," he said. "That's all considered coastline, but it's not all a beach area."

The 15 beaches are near or right next to each other noted Grant.

"If you look on Google Maps, it'll show the different beaches as you go along," he said. "Silver Sands turns into Walnut Beach. Then you go further down to the other beaches in the city, like Walnut Beach."

Throughout the 17.5 miles of coastline, there are neighborhoods with waterfront property, with private waterfront property. But one of Connecticut's laws, Public Trust Area, determines what is considered a beach and makes it public.

According to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, if an area is regularly wet by the tides, or below the mean high tide level, it is safe to assume it is in the public trust. The public trust area is sometimes referred to as a tideland and is defined as a "public beach" by the Connecticut Coastal Management Act.

"So, for example, you can take on a low tide day you can walk below that mean waterline just along the shore as far as you want to," said Grant. "It's wonderful, in my opinion, because it allows everyone to use the wonderful natural resource, which is the ocean."

For a waterfront home, the property generally extends to the mean waterline, he said.

"Anything below is a public beach," he said

But just because a beach is public doesn't necessarily mean it is accessible to the public. In 2001, the state Supreme Court struck down resident-only beach ordinances, but did not address the issue of permits and fees.

State Rep. Roland Lemar, co-chairman of the General Assembly's Transportation Committee, is renewing his push for equalizing beach access, citing Connecticut's history of excluding non-residents and minorities from suburban beaches. This year's proposal would take away state funding for local road repairs from towns that don't provide better public access, although Lemar has acknowledged that the bill needs to be rewritten.

Most of the 17.5 miles of beaches in Milford have no parking restrictions for residents or nonresidents alike. 

"Parking depends on the different beaches, basically having the Milford parking sticker allows you to park at any of the resident parking lots," he said. "Anyone is welcome to attend to our beaches. We pride ourselves in our beaches and want to show them off."

The lots directly adjacent to Gulf and Walnut beaches require vehicles to display a beach sticker or to pay a parking fee of about $5 per hour or $40 per day during the summer.

Milford also has Silver Sands State Park, which is state-owned, and anyone with a Connecticut license plate can park for free.

"So all the beaches in Milford are a good portion of the coastline, and when you add the Connecticut Public Trust, that makes all of it accessible to the public," Grant said. "Milford is a beautiful place with a beautiful coastline, and I encourage everyone to take it in and enjoy it."