The hidden splendor of Alewife Cove
A brisk, south breeze swept the shoreline as Tom Richardson and I paddled kayaks up a secluded cove one sunny morning last week.
A few yards ahead, a lone egret, gleaming white against an azure sky, sprang from a rock and winged away noiselessly. Maples, just turning crimson in autumn amid amber oaks and golden birches, crowned a distant hill.
Aside from rustling reeds and gurgling currents swirled by the tide, silence reigned.
“Hard to believe we’re only a few miles from a busy city,” I remarked.
“That’s what makes this so special. A beautiful place,” Tom agreed.
We were kayaking up Alewife Cove, a Long Island Sound estuary that forms a border between New London and Waterford.
Tom – executive producer and host of Explore New England, a Boston-based multi-media company – was making his first foray up the narrow, serpentine waterway. He was in New London last week to prepare a show about the Whaling City that will air next month, and he invited me to accompany him on a kayak voyage on the cove.
The program will showcase other city attractions, including the Connecticut College Arboretum, Waterfront Park, Ledge Light, fishing on the sound, and the Black Heritage Trail, which highlights 15 sites of local and national historic significance.
“It will be a cool way to look at New London,” said Rich Martin, chairman of the New London Cultural District Commission and owner of Telegraph Records. Rich, a former manager of Hygienic Art, has long been involved with the city’s art scene.
The Cultural District Commission contracted with Explore New England to produce the program, tentatively scheduled for broadcast several times on the New England Sports Network (NESN), beginning in mid-December. The show also will be posted on YouTube and available on Explore New England’s website, explorenewengland.tv.
No one is more thrilled about the upcoming program than Ed Lamoureux, founder and co-chairman of the Alewife Cove Conservancy, a volunteer organization that has been working for a decade to restore, protect and improve the waterway.
“It’s been a labor of love,” he told me. Ed, who supplied a tandem kayak for use by the film crew last week, also was interviewed for the program.
The conservancy has long been involved with a project by Save the Sound to remove a dam on Fenger Brook, which forms the headwaters of Alewife Cove. The privately owned dam is located near condominiums on Niles Hill Road in Waterford. Dismantling it would enable alewife, a type of herring that is an important food source for larger fish, to return to breeding waters farther upstream.
“Before the dam was built, you could walk across the cove on their backs,” Ed said.
The conservancy also is hoping to arrange for renewed dredging of the cove, which was heavily silted by Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
Tom and I were on a tight schedule because much of Alewife Cove is too shallow to navigate at low tide. Therefore, we launched shortly after high tide, just west of the pavilion at Ocean Beach Park, and began paddling north.
“Beautiful!” Tom exclaimed, gazing at pristine marshes surrounding the cove’s crystal-clear water. We pushed against a tidal current for half a mile or so – the cove extends less than a mile – before turning around and returning to the beach access, so videographer Halsey Fulton could record additional video using a drone.
Halsey, whose company, Fish Hawk Films, is based in Newport, maneuvered the airborne camera remotely from shore, letting it hover high overhead as well as bringing it only a few feet above the water.
After paddling up the cove against the tidal current, Tom and I then turned around and rocketed with the ebb, through the narrow, riprap-lined mouth at Long Island Sound.
“Wow!” Tom shouted, as we shot through the gap and gazed at the resplendent view of Ledge Light, Fishers Island and Orient Point. It was a Chamber of Commerce-type day, the water sparkling in bright sunshine.
The breeze and tide kicked up chop as we paddled around a trio of rocky islands known locally as The Three Sisters. From this vantage point a few hundred yards offshore, we could see Harkness Memorial State Park in Waterford, as well as the gently curved arc of Ocean Beach in New London.
“Doesn’t get any better than this,” I said.
“Look! ‘Albies are jumping!’” Tom exclaimed, referring to a school of false albacore fish.
All in all, it was a spectacular morning on the water. As its name suggests, Alewife Cove is a protected inlet, making it ideal for family outings and school groups, including the Stonington-based New England Science & Sailing Foundation, which organizes summer programs for youngsters on its water and along the shore. Venturing out into the sound is a bonus.
There also is a well-marked nature trail and viewing platform overlooking the cove, easily accessible from the southwest end of the Ocean Beach parking lot, near the water slide.
The conservancy, which for years has staged a Fourth of July kayak regatta on the cove, also is hosting its annual Benefit Bash,” at 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 11, at the Ocean Beach’s Port N Starboard Banquet & Conference Center.
Ticket information is posted on the organization’s website, alewifecove.org.
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