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Commitee takes next steps toward making Thames River Heritage Park a reality

Groton The committee working to create the Thames River Heritage Park agreed Wednesday on a strategy to move the plan forward, forming three subcommittees to focus on securing the foundational elements that would make the proposal a reality.

The 20-member steering committee, meeting at the Avery-Copp House for the first time since the successful pilot run of the water taxi the last two weekends, learned that the vessel took 4,200 passengers across the river, a number interpreted as an overwhelming endorsement of the concept given that was just 1,600 passengers shy of the total capacity for all the trips Sept. 6, 7, 13 and 14.

The water taxi is considered the “thread” that would connect the multiple independent sites that would make up the park.

“Every single comment we heard was positive,” said Leslie Evans, director of the Avery-Copp House, which received many phone calls from water taxi passengers and initiated the creation of the steering committee for the heritage park. The park would tie together historical and cultural sites on both sides of the Thames with the water taxi, common signage and a website, kiosks and coordinated programming. Sites would include Fort Trumbull and Fort Griswold state parks, the Avery-Copp House, the Submarine Force Museum and USS Nautilus, as well as the proposed National Coast Guard Museum, among others. The committee will continue collecting information from passengers on surveys that can be accessed through midnight Sunday at www.averycopphouse.org.

One of the three subcommittees that formed Wednesday will look into all the concrete details of securing and operating a water taxi by next spring. The 42-passenger vessel used for the trial was on free loan from Mystic Seaport.

“The biggest infrastructure investment for this is the water taxi,” said Groton City Mayor Marian Galbraith.

The group would investigate where the type of vessel needed could be obtained, the cost, handicapped accessibility issues and getting a dock built at the Nautilus. Adam Wronowski, vice president of Cross Sound Ferry, which provided an operator for the water taxi for the pilot project, recommended a catamaran-design vessel that could carry more than 42 passengers, with a removable canopy to protect passengers during the rain and cooler months. It should be easily accessible for those with strollers, wheelchairs, bicycles and Segways, he said.

“We definitely had requests for people who needed assistance,” he said. “We need a vessel designed” for the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The second subcommittee would work on securing funding for the water taxi, while the third would focus its energy on obtaining the official designation from the state as a heritage park, following the steps set out in a bill adopted at the close of the last legislative session.

The steering committee also is awaiting a report from the Yale Urban Design Workshop to guide its future actions and lay out the route for bringing the park to reality. The Yale consultants are doing the work under a contract with the Avery-Copp House.

Committee members said they are hoping to receive the report by mid-fall and would then present it to the state and leaders of the various historical and cultural sites to gain their commitments to be part of the park. Penny Parsekian, development, communications and special projects consultant for the Avery-Copp House, said 18 sites and local groups have thus far agreed to write letters of support, but several have not yet responded.

“We should go to them once the report is out,” said Bruce Hyde of New London, one of the steering committee members. “After the success of the water taxi, it’s a whole new ball game.”

The subcommittees agreed to work on their respective tasks for the rest of this month and next, and will all report back to the whole steering committee at its next meeting Nov. 12.

j.benson@theday.com

Twitter: @BensonJudy

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