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    Local Columns
    Saturday, September 23, 2023

    Voila: A new state park

    I can't think of a single project in the region in recent history that has been as successfully executed, on time and way under its small budget, as the new Thames River Heritage Park.

    I also can't think of any that has the potential to be as transformative, a new amenity for local residents, a draw for tourists and likely an economic development driver.

    Even better, it creates an identifiable new place, a virtual and actual park, linking interesting sights along the Thames River, in both New London and Groton, by water.

    What better way to showcase the region's history and attractions than to use the river that runs through it? The river is literally part of the story.

    The park lights officially will go on as soon as next week, when the last official t's and i's are crossed and dotted with inspections and documentation of the park's two new water taxis.

    The taxis are another example of how well this project has been executed and planned. They are Navy surplus and cost $1 each.

    The state allocated just $200,000 over two years to finance the new park project, and so far the group is way under budget, spending some money on launch repairs and budgeting for some marketing but generally relying on lots of volunteer power.

    They know it likely will succeed, because a carefully run pilot test program produced statistics and comments that overwhelmingly suggest it will.

    Still, park officials are cautious and say they expect this first season will be a long trial of sorts, as everyone, from supporting institutions on either side of the river, to park visitors, acclimates.

    It also will take time, they say, for word of mouth to do its work.

    To this end, they are beginning with a limited Friday through Sunday schedule.

    But they are prepared to expand this as ridership develops.

    The taxis will keep a strict schedule, with a full loop of stops at Fort Trumbull and City Pier in New London and Fort Griswold in Groton, taking one hour.

    There are plans to add a stop upriver, at the Nautilus museum, but they need to build a dock there first to accommodate the taxis.

    This is a good segue to pitch some help for the park planners.

    I know. It seems like they don't need any, given that they have successfully brought to life an idea that has literally been kicking around for 50 years, never getting off the ground.

    But there is now a park foundation to raise money for the endeavor, and this would be a good way for the region to get behind this innovative project, almost certainly the first of its kind on the country.

    A good place to start would be for a substantial angel to build a dock at the Nautilus museum.

    Electric Boat, which has a big corporate footprint on both sides of the river and is rich in never-ending submarine contracts, comes to mind here.

    The rest of us can vote our support more easily, at least at the ticket booth.

    I don't think there is a cheaper way to get out on the water. A roundtrip ticket is $10 for an adult, $5 for a child. You can ride all day for $15 or all weekend for $20.

    Consider a season pass for $50 and just keep riding.

    Charter memberships in the foundation are $200 and include unlimited rides this season.

    Every business in downtown Groton and New London should join and contribute.

    Lots of people have volunteered their time and skills to make this happen.

    Much credit goes to Chris Cox of Mystic, chairman of the transition team, Penny Parsekian, who, working for the Avery Copp House of Groton, resuscitated the park plan and drafted the Yale Urban Design Workshop to hone it, and Groton Mayor Marian Galbraith, who kept a shoulder pressed against officialdom.

    Maybe New London should consider turning the rest of Fort Trumbull over to them to develop.

    This is the opinion of David Collins.


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