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Dry run for water taxi planned this weekend on Thames River

New London — A free water taxi service linking historic, recreational and cultural sites on both sides of the Thames River will embark on pilot voyages this weekend and next, organizers said Thursday.

"This is a new recreation opportunity, a new transportation opportunity and an opportunity to increase awareness of the assets and accessible history in Groton and New London and the untapped potential for education, recreation, tourism and community building," said state Rep. Elissa Wright, D-Groton, who has been working to build support for long-term funding to run the water taxi regularly next summer.

For its trial period, the water taxi will run about every 30 minutes from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sept. 6-7 and Sept. 13-14.

The pilot shuttles on Saturday will coincide with the 233rd anniversary of the Battle of Groton Heights, and history buffs will be able to take the water taxi to a commemoration of the battle at 6 p.m. at Fort Griswold.

"This area has such a rich history to offer," program coordinator Penny Parsekian said. "And I think the water taxi will make those things more accessible."

The Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments contracted with Cross Sound Ferry to operate the vessel, which will pick up and drop off about 40 passengers at a time between New London's City Pier, Groton's Fort Street landing and Fort Trumbull State Park, according to Parsekian.

Cross Sound Ferry coordinated the boat's insurance, permitting and Coast Guard approval, Parsekian said. Mystic Seaport donated the use of the vessel, Liberty, for the two weekends, and Cross Sound Ferry is charging only enough to cover its expenses for the operator.

In addition to support from private donors, Groton City put $3,000 toward the effort, the City of New London gave $2,000 and the state provided $2,500, Parsekian said.

"A lot of effort and goodwill by a lot of people has brought about this successful win-win outcome," Wright said. "It is a partnership of state and local government, working in collaboration with the private sector, the business community and nonprofit organizations. It has been wonderful to see how the community has really pulled together to make this a reality."

The water taxi idea was first broached decades ago as part of the original plan for a Thames River Heritage Park. The plan, which has recently been revived, aims to spur business growth in the region by drawing more tourists to the area's historic attractions.

"We hope this will allow residents and visitors to paint a more complete picture and develop a deeper understanding of the people, places, events and traditions that have shaped our region," Wright said of the heritage park plan. "We also hope it will stimulate some revitalization of the area and complement the maritime identity and maritime heritage already anchored here."

c.young@theday.com
Twitter: ColinAYoung

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