New London - This summer, Ocean Beach Park visitors who use wheelchairs or walkers will be able to get closer to the water than ever before.
A new 1,000-foot, handicapped accessible section of trail opened recently, thanks to the efforts of the group Save Ocean Beach and state and federal grants. Eight feet wide, the trail is made of a 6-inch deep layer of gravel topped by 3 inches of stone dust, and hugs the shore of Alewife Cove, a picturesque tidal inlet where egrets, ospreys and cormorants are regular visitors.
"It's so people can get closer to the cove and appreciate nature," Thomas Quintin, chairman of Save Ocean Beach, a residents' group with about 50 members, said Saturday as he walked along the new trail, flanked on one side by the park's water slide and the other by the blue waters and green marsh grass of the cove. Handicapped visitors to Ocean Beach, he noted, can maneuver their wheelchairs along the boardwalk that extends the length of the beachfront but keeps them several dozen feet back from the waterfront.
About $43,000 in state and federal grants paid for the project, which took about two months to complete. In addition to creating a level surface and laying the gravel and stone dust, the work involved clearing tree stumps and brush and installing granite benches. Quintin laid out the curving path of the 1,000-foot section, which starts at a small garden near the western end of the beach parking lot and ends at a 780-foot section of previously existing trail that leads to a handicapped accessible observation deck.
"We call it the connector trail," said Louise Fabrykiewicz, volunteer director for the group. She leads nature walks, cleanups, habitat restoration and other events along the cove trail in a program called A Living Museum.
Already, she said, she has begun incorporating the new trail section into her walks, most recently on a Connecticut Trails Day event June 1. Next month, she will lead an environmental education program for a group of New London schoolchildren.
"I've got some seniors coming down at the end of July," she said. "I can tailor my walks to different needs."
Fabrykiewicz said students from Connecticut College and clients of Sound Community Services have signed up as volunteers to help maintain the trail.
Quintin said the next project will be to extend the trail on the other end, from the garden to Highland Avenue, at the north side of the park.
For information about the nature walks, cleanups, habitat restoration and invasive plant removal projects offered through A Living Museum, contact Louise Fabrykiewicz at (860) 444-8916 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org.