November 26, 2020

CT Audubon to Buy ‘Bee & Thistle Inn’ in Old Lyme, Plans to Renovate it as Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center HQ

OLD LYME — (Press release issued by CT Audubon) The Connecticut Audubon Society and its Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center (RTPEC) will soon have a new facility in Old Lyme to continue to carry out the regional conservation, science research and education work that began five years when the RTPEC was established.

The organization has reached an agreement to buy the former Bee and Thistle Inn, at 100 Lyme St. The plan is to create an environmental education center for people of all ages. It will become the Estuary Center’s new headquarters and will include a room for public talks and workshops, a location for summer day camp, and a staging area for research on the ecology of the estuary.

The RTPEC offices, which are currently at 90 Halls Rd., will move to the new facility as well.

The 5.25-acre site is on the Lieutenant River, a tributary of the Connecticut River. It includes a wetland area and offers river access to the local 56-acre section of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge.

The RTPEC has developed a strong reputation in its five years based on a succession of successful programs. The Center currently reaches 5,000 young people and adults across the region through environmental education programs at schools, online and in the field.

“The RTPEC is one of our jewels, and this new facility is in a perfect location for a nature center that focuses on the estuarine environment,” said Connecticut Audubon Executive Director Patrick Comins. “We can’t wait to introduce people to its birds and wildlife, and to use it as a launching area for more great outings. The volunteers who had the vision to establish the center in 2015 and then to keep building on its success deserve all the credit for this.”

Connecticut Audubon is planning a  comprehensive campaign to cover the purchase price to renovate the building for visitors, and to preserve this landmark for the community. The goal is to open the new facility within 12 to 18 months.

Claudia Weicker, chair of the RTPEC Regional Board, said that the new facility’s location, next to the Florence Griswold Museum, was particularly appropriate.

“Our commitment to conservation of the Connecticut River estuary and of Long Island Sound is as strong as ever,” she said. “We focus on the environment and education, in particular, and, in doing so, we relate the importance of nature to the history and culture of our area. This location, next to the home of Miss Florence Griswold, revives the synergy that existed between America’s great art colony and the beauty of the natural world.”

The Center is named after Roger Tory Peterson, the artist, writer, teacher, and conservationist, who lived and worked in Old Lyme. Peterson’s acclaimed field guides to birds and nature are widely known and recognized as iconic in their field.

Two of the Center’s most successful programs will continue to take place elsewhere. Its spring and fall lecture series regularly draws overflow crowds to local auditoria to hear nationally-known experts on birds, estuary science and other conservation topics.

The Science in Nature outdoor education program will continue to be taught at area schools, natural areas within walking distance of schools, and through distance learning.

Those two off-site programs will complement the offerings at the new center, said Alisha Milardo, the director of the RTPEC.

“The residents of southeastern Connecticut have an abiding interest and enthusiasm for environmental conservation programs,” she said, adding, “Our education, science research and advocacy programs have received great support and we’re confident that at this new location we will be able to expand our offerings for the community.”



  1. Christina J. & Thomas D. Gotowka says

    This is very good news for Old Lyme. The B&T has been our go-to place for special dinners and special occasions, so we had hoped that it would be sold to another innkeeper/ restaurateur, or that Mr. Rufo would re-emerge from another retirement.
    All that said, RTP is an excellent partner for B&T’s next chapter. It’s a beautiful and historic site right on the Lieutenant and really tailor-made for CT Audubon programs.
    Adjoining the Flo Gris and its Artist Trail, we don’t think that the outcome could be any better. It will remain an anchor on the historic district.
    We trust that RTP will develop the site with careful recognition of its status as an historic landmark. We were pleased that they recognize that programs that draw “overflow crowds” should remain in “local auditoria”. So, parking is not an issue.
    Finally, let’s not forget the B&T staff that have already been displaced over the past several months because of the COVID crisis.

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