With new programs and operator, water taxi starts season

New London — The start of Memorial Day weekend marks the start of the season for the Thames River Heritage Park Water Taxi, which returns with multiple changes this year.

For the first time, it will offer group tours, in which $49 or $59 gets a participant a six- or seven-hour tour with a narrated boat ride, three-course lunch and admission to Heritage Park sites. TRHP has a new employee in charge of overseeing group tours.

On Saturdays and Sundays in July and August, there will also be the 90-minute Submarines, Battlefields & Betrayers tour, which is $20 for adults and $12 for children under 12.

Otherwise, the water taxi operates as a hop-on-hop-off boat with stops at Fort Trumbull in New London, City Pier in New London, and Thames River Landing in Groton — respectively on the hour, 20 minutes past the hour and 40 minutes past the hour.

The water taxi runs until Sept. 15 this year, with hours from noon to 10 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday, though it doesn't stop at Fort Trumbull after 7 p.m.

The cost is $10, or $5 for children, active-duty military personnel and those riding after 6 p.m. Season passes are $50 for adults and $30 for children.

With the previous three-year contract up, the operator of the water taxi has switched from Thames River Water Taxi LLC to Vixen Ledge Marine LLC, owned by Scott Arsenault. Heritage Park Executive Director Amy Perry noted at TRHP's annual meeting earlier this month that Arsenault is no stranger to their boats: He's been a captain for the last three years.

Perry said in a news release Arsenault spent 24 years as a Connecticut state employee, between the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and Department of Correction.

TRHP also will have volunteers leading free walking tours at Fort Trumbull and Fort Griswold. A new complimentary shuttle on the Groton side of the river will offer a loop to historic sites, such as the Submarine Force Library & Museum, SubVets WWII National Memorial East and Avery-Copp House.

Opting for the first time to hold a ribbon-cutting on opening day, the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut rung in the water taxi's fourth season in unusually dramatic fashion mid-day Friday.

Joined by New London city officials, military officials and U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, chamber staff waited at City Pier under the sunny but blustery skies for their guests to arrive by water taxi.

Instead of walking less than a quarter-mile from City Hall to City Pier, Mayor Michael Passero waited at Fort Trumbull for the boat to pick him up and take him to City Pier.

It had come from Thames River Landing in Groton, where it picked up Groton City Mayor Keith Hedrick, Groton Town economic and community development manager Paige Bronk, TRHP Chairwoman Marian Galbraith, and water taxi enthusiasts Wayne Burgess and Sue Bergeron.

Upon disembarking at City Pier, Galbraith remarked that people kept saying years ago the idea for the water taxi wouldn't work, yet here we are.

"Once again, this shows we can use the Thames River as a uniter and not a divider between the city of New London and the city of Groton," Hedrick said.

On Friday, TRHP also gave free rides to those who brought donations for the New London Area Food Pantry.

The organization is waiting on approval of a grant that would allow outside groups to charter the water taxis for their own fundraisers or events. Perry said plans for an additional dock at the Submarine Force Library & Museum, which would be gifted to the Navy, still are on track for the summer of 2020.

e.moser@theday.com

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