Season two discovering our river and region

The region’s heritage is inextricably linked to the water. Even long before the first European settlers established communities here more than 300 years ago, rivers and sea both played an integral role for the region’s Native Americans. From that earliest history through the early decades of the 20th Century, the Thames River, for example, teemed with vessels ranging from cross-river ferries and private launches to the area’s summer hotels, to fishing boats and commercial schooners.

Now, however, the unfortunate reality is that many southeastern Connecticut residents and visitors never see the region from the water and never get a firsthand understanding of how the Thames provides a link, not a barrier, among the communities on its eastern and western banks. Thank goodness then that the Thames River Heritage Park committee is determined to change this perspective. Not only does this important park promote nearly 20 national and historical sites in New London and Groton in a collaborative sense as part of a single venue, but it also gets more people out onto the river that shaped the region and for so long fueled the economy and commerce.

A second full season of the Heritage Park’s popular water taxi launches this weekend and we couldn’t be happier that the service is now expanded. Instead of just one boat, there will be two taxis this summer. And not only will the taxis provide regular cross-river service with stops at City Pier and Fort Trumbull State Park in New London and at Thames River Landing on Fort Street in Groton, but also will host special events such as narrated tours. The tours promise to offer a variety of experiences: from learning about the pirates, whalers and traitors (think Benedict Arnold) who once plied local waters, to simply leaning back and being dazzled by beautiful scenery and sunsets.

The Park Foundation also has teamed with Shoreline East railroad in an effort to encourage visitors to think of the water taxi as a mode of transportation as much as a special attraction. Beginning June 1, Shoreline East riders can get a discount off the already bargain price of $50 for a water taxi season pass.

Beside the water taxi expansion, the Heritage Park is now more effectively linking its collection of disparate attractions through an audio tour available via the app Izi travel and is working to establish a larger volunteer corps to serve as on-site park ambassadors interacting with visitors, as well as photographers promoting the park and its assets on social media sites.

Even more exciting than what’s in store for the current season, however, are the future plans for the park. The park committee recognizes both that the region’s heritage pre-dates the Colonial era and that the Thames extends well north of Groton and New London. Amy Perry, the Park Foundation’s interim executive director, said long-term goals include extending water taxi routes further upriver and working with the local Native American tribes to incorporate their stories into the park’s fabric.

By 2018 and with the help of the Connecticut Port Authority, a new dock at the Historic Ship Nautilus and Submarine Force Museum could bring yet another important area attraction onto the water taxi circuit.

Southeastern Connecticut’s heritage is important not just to this region. The history played out here helped shape the entire nation. Numerous smaller attractions such as the Custom House Maritime Museum, the Hempstead Houses, Fort Griswold and the Avery-Copp House struggled for years to tell these important stories, but were often stymied by limited resources. Individual marketing presents huge challenges for small venues.

The region truly is fortunate that so many of these attractions have now discovered truth in the adage that there is strength in numbers. The Thames River Heritage Park demonstrates that history and heritage are not tied to a collection of individual events, but a seamless series of stories linking the past to the future. The Thames is the heart of this heritage.

So, go enjoy the river from the water taxi this season. The experience could foster a new appreciation and a fresh perspective of the river and the region. 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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