The Connecticut River Gateway Commission was organized in 1973 after the failure of a federal effort to establish a four-area National Park system along the Connecticut River from Canada to Long Island Sound. The southern most unit, which extended from the Connecticut River railroad bridge north to the towns of Haddam and East Haddam, was called the “Gateway Unit” (map at left). That premise of that broad plan was to get Americans out of doors more to enjoy recreation. The plan included a tourism component as well as a conservation component. The location of the massive “visitor’s center” was to be in northern Old Saybrook on the property now known as “The Preserve”. People would be driven by bus to visit the various areas within the Gateway unit. Thousands of visitors were predicted to visit each year. The plan was compared to the Cape Cod National Seashore park.
Because of the fear lower river officials and residents had regarding how their historic villages and country roads would acclimate to a tremendous influx of visitors – likely too many for the area to be able to handle – a decision was ultimately made by State and local leaders to write a state law which embraced the conservation aspects of the federal legislation while discarding the tourism component. This led to the state law that established the Gateway Conservation Zone and the Connecticut River Gateway Commission to oversee the mission of protection of the “natural and traditional riverway scene”.