Conn. wireless state park to teach pupils

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EAST HAVEN, Conn. (AP) – In a first for Connecticut, a state park is about to go wireless.

Farm River State park, a 57-acre waterfront site with nesting osprey, owls and numerous other wildlife will soon be a center for environmental study and education, an outdoor classroom for a New Haven magnet school and a base for boating programs.

An additional 15 acres feature a marina.

The state, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Trust for Public Lands, purchased both parcels in 1998 for $1.75 million. Its management is under contract to Quinnipiac University in Hamden.

Using an $86,000 state grant, the state park will become Connecticut’s first to have wireless Internet access.

“Our angle isn’t just to make it wireless. Our angle is to take the wildlife there and pipe that directly into the classroom,” said Allan Smits, chairman of Quinnipiac’s biology department overseeing the effort to develop Farm River State Park.

Students also can use the wireless park to do “real-time environmental monitoring,” including water temperature, quality and salinity, he said.

In addition, Smits said he will place a Web camera near nesting ospreys to be viewed by students on computer screens.

It’s not the first barrier Farm River has knocked down. It’s also the first state park to be managed by a private entity under two concessions granted to Quinnipiac University, said Pamela Adams, director of state parks for the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Quinnipiac pays $1 to the state and finances improvements, including restoring utilities to the marina and renovating a former home to be used as a base for research and educational programs. Quinnipiac collects money from the slips and uses it for the park’s improvement and upkeep.

Smits said Quinnipiac was interested in the park because of interest in the potential for the biology department. Officials also saw its recreation potential, he said.

And managing the park also fits Quinnipiac’s intent to become involved with primary and secondary school science education, Smits said.

“So the more we looked at the property, the more the possibilities became apparent,” he said.

Quinnipiac this summer will begin renovating the rustic modern-style house to make it suitable for a science center. But opening it to the public is a challenge.

“The problem – and it’s a big problem – is that there is no parking,” Smits said.

Tom Morrissey, chief of the outdoor recreation bureau at DEP, said regardless of the park’s high tech ambitions, ordinary challenges remain.

“Park Management 101: you need parking, you need bathrooms,” he said.

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