Coastal public access hiding in plain sight in a Mystic neighborhood
"Lane Ends in Little-Known Public Landing"
That was the headline in an Aug. 1, 1980, story in The Compass, a now-defunct Mystic weekly newspaper, written by the late Bea Andrews, who subsequently earned my great respect and admiration as we worked together for many years in the newsroom here at The Day.
I would like to think Bea would be happy for me to follow her great news instincts once again and report on what still appears, all these years later, to be a lost public asset in Mystic.
In fact, not much has changed since Bea reported what no one seemed to know then: that the public is entitled to access the Mystic River at the end of a short residential street in Mystic called Park Place, the same name as the prized address on Monopoly gameboards.
As Bea described it in 1980, the street trails off at its end into a slope into the water, like an earthen ramp.
There was nothing then, and there is nothing now, to mark it as a public right of way providing access to the river. Then and now it has been landscaped to look as if it is part of the yards of the neighboring houses.
There was even a small no trespassing sign, according to Bea's story, in the middle of the right of way, an apparent attempt by whoever lived there at the time to keep out, rather than welcome, the public.
I was directed to Park Place and the secret right of way by Richard Fitzgerald, a retired Electric Boat engineer and member of the Groton Zoning Board of Appeals, who has championed the public's right to coastal access in Mystic.
At Fitzgerald's suggestion, I tracked down Alice Foley, a longtime resident of Park Place who would like to see the town clean up the area and make it more obviously available to the public.
Foley, a Mystic native who is 92 and has lived on Park Place for 57 years, led me on a tour of the public access area and her own impressive yard and gardens, which she maintains herself.
She pointed out where neighbors over the years have encroached on the road itself, with extensions of lawns and driveway pavers, so that what remains of the paved public right of way is quite narrow.
She noted, and I would say she is right, that there is no room at the end of the narrow street for towed trailers to launch boats. But certainly you could use the ramp area to launch a small craft like a canoe or kayak.
Foley said tourists often wander down the street from downtown Mystic, and she thinks they ought to be able to use the public access to get closer to the water.
She suggested the overgrown area, beyond where neighbors are mowing as if it is part of the adjacent lawns, could be cleaned up, weeded, etc.
My reporting, like Bea's, took me next to Town Hall. Like Bea, I also got confirmation that the end of the Park Place is indeed a public right of way.
Bea's confirmation came from the public works director at the time, who told her town maps dating to the 19th century show the public road leading into the water.
Asked why it wasn't marked as a public way, the public works director told Bea in 1980: "We never had a request to post it. We never had any problems with it either."
Today's Town Manager John Burt confirmed, in an email conversation I had with him about the end of Park Place, that it is indeed public. He said it has apparently never had a sign because the road is narrow and it would be hard to turn around.
"I've asked one of our engineers to take a look out there to see if we could at least put up a sign right at the site, rather than at the start of the road," he wrote.
He wrote in a subsequent email that they are now considering a state Department of Transportation-approved sign that would mark the area as a hand launch/small boat launch area.
The sign graphic shows someone at the shoreline putting what looks like a small rubber dinghy in the water. Perfect.
Burt added in his subsequent email a response from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection asking that the growth not be removed because the "healthy tidal wetlands vegetation" growing there is under state jurisdiction. DEEP noted that it should still be possible to launch car-top boats there even with the vegetation remaining.
I am glad to think the access can at least get a sign. I would invite those in town interested in public recreation, trails and coastal access to join Fitzgerald in advocating for attention to this public asset and support the town's intervention.
Maybe some reporter for The Day won't be able to write 50 years from now about the "little-known public landing" on Park Place with no invitation for its use to the public, which owns it.
This is the opinion of David Collins.
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