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Fishers Island seeks to boost population

The Long Island Sound meets Fishers Island. Southold

The Long Island Sound meets Fishers Island. Southold town held their annual town board meeting on Fisher's Island, a part of Southold town, but closer to Connecticut. (Aug. 8, 2012) Credit: Randee Daddona

Residents of Fishers Island are having a dilemma in "paradise": They know they need to boost the population of the tiny, secluded island in the off-season, but doing so comes at a cost -- risking their quiet way of life.

Fishers Island, located 7 miles off the Connecticut coast and accessible only by ferry from New London, is a place where most people prefer bikes instead of cars. The 5-square-mile island has no high-end restaurants or even hotels (there is a small bed-and-breakfast style lodging), all of which suits its residents just fine.

"It's paradise," said Woody Collins, a summer resident of Fishers Island, where he met his wife, Cindy. "Especially for children."

Though the summer population swells to 3,000 and beyond, especially on weekends, Fishers Island's year-round population has been declining during the past few decades to about 300 residents, said Pierce Rafferty, director of the island's Henry L. Ferguson Museum.

The dropoff prompted the creation of a strategic plan, which calls for adding more winter residents. The community's goal is to sustain a year-round population of as many as 500 residents to "maintain a self-sufficient Island community" and sustain municipal functions. Rafferty said the planning group is also looking at establishing an artists' colony.

"Fishers Island, historically, doesn't want people to come here," Rafferty said. "Fishers Island is very protective of its character."

Declining population was among the topics discussed Wednesday during the Southold town board's annual pilgrimage to Fishers Island. More than 100 people -- including representatives from federal, state and county legislatures and departments, and virtually every department head in the town -- made the hourlong ferry ride from Orient Point. About 30 residents attended the meeting.

Supervisor Scott Russell pointed out that the availability of "meaningful jobs," a particular problem in a restricted-access area like Fishers Island, is key to aiding population growth.

Residents also expressed concern about getting a reliable communication system between the town and island to view town board meetings live, and pruning and cleaning of trees on the town's property.

But overall, those who spend summers on the bucolic sweep of sand and sea said they are content. While life is slow, there are things to do, including golfing, tennis, sailing and fishing.

For Grace Fowler, 18, who has lived on the island full-time for the past few years with her family, island life means biking, hanging with friends and living in a place that is safe and where people know each other well.

"We go to the beach, surfing, and sailing, water-skiing," she said. "It's a great place to be in the summer."

 

Fishers Island facts

 

300 - Year-round residents

3,000+ - Summer locals/tourists

$67,000 - Median income

$800,000 - Average house price

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