Waterford beaches are meant for walking; so that’s what these friends do
Day at the Beach
Editor's Note: Welcome to our annual summer series. This year, we asked readers to tell us about their favorite beach destinations within driving distance, since summer in southeastern Connecticut wouldn't be complete without a day at the beach.
Waterford — Before most Waterford residents have taken their first sip of coffee, a dozen pairs of feet and their furry companions hit the beach.
By 6:45 a.m., Jerry Fischer and a group of friends have begun their daily walk around Waterford Beach Park. They talk shop about the happenings in each other’s lives — whether it be about work or a recent vacation — and help make sure everyone is staying active.
“We’re very vigorous about Monday through Friday, 52 weeks a year,” Fischer said of the group.
“It’s energizing” Susan Kerner said of exercising early in the morning.
What started as a few friends walking their dogs in the morning has turned into a fixture in their daily routines for the last 20 years or so, Fischer said, though no one in the group could give an exact start date.
The entire group can’t attend every morning. Seven of the usual twelve walkers — and three of the usual four dogs — took to the beach on a humid July morning for their usual 2.5 mile trek.
The town’s website says Waterford Beach “offers nearly 1/4 mile long stretch of sandy beach and an extensive tidal marsh,” which the group walks every inch of, plus more. The daily adventure continues through Camp Harkness before the group circles back to their cars.
The mixed group of New London and Waterford residents in their 60s and mid-70s tend to meet up at the tennis courts across from Eugene O’Neil Theater Center before making their way down a bit of paved road and to the sand.
Before any toes can touch the sand, there’s a small bridge that carries visitors over a pool of water surrounded by tall grass. On the other side awaits the Thames River and the carefully maintained sand with a guard shack. Meg Driscoll said it’s one of her favorite portions of the morning adventure.
“I think I’ve painted it about 15 times,” said Driscoll, who was joined by her husband John.
The walkers take in the sunrise on the beach, though on this day it was cloudy. Even when they take to the beach on 15 degree days in the winter, decked out in their down coats, the sunrise is “incredible,” Kerner said.
Fischer has taken a liking to the “wrack line” — bits of seaweed, kelp and seashells left by the previous night’s high tide which form into a line. He joked with the maintenance worker, who was using a tractor to scoop up the debris and comb over the sand, that he was ruining his art.
The walkers said they are super appreciative of the maintenance crew, which “takes beautiful care” of the park.
Through the bit of marshland and into Harkness Memorial Park they go as they catch sight of “unusual plants” and various wildlife. Fischer spotted an osprey as it landed in its nest on top of the water tower next to the Harkness mansion.
The wildlife sightings continue as the walkers meander into the Harkness estate’s cutting garden, which holds rows of multicolored flowers on either side of the entrance. In the corner and down to the left is a small, droopy tree with miniature headstones.
“Those are the dogs of the Harknesses,” Fischer explained, which ran around the property of the Harkness family in the early 1900s.
Aisle of trees
The house of the former caretaker of the Harkness estate still stands on the property and signals Driscoll’s next favorite part of the walk: Mary Harkness Way.
The sloping pavement takes visitors through an aisle of tall trees, which are full of leaves during the summer. Driscoll says, however, that she prefers it in the spring.
“In the springtime it’s just lined with daffodils,” Driscoll explained. “Like a sea of daffodils.”
One passerby left a chalk drawing on this portion of the path for others to view. The group took a minute to decipher who was the cartoon man. He was drawn with a curious look on his face and a pipe, with a Dalmatian by his side whose intrigued expression matched his own.
“It’s Eugene O’Neil!” Lisa McGinley proclaimed. McGinley is a retired city editor of The Day who serves on the editorial board.
The paved road took the group up to the front entrance of Camp Harkness. From here, it’s a short route alongside Great Neck Road through a bit of brush before completing the trip for the day.
Olive, one of the accompanying dogs, made sure to stop to roll around in the grass before heading home.
“She drives us crazy in the morning before we walk,” John Bashaw said of his black Labrador retriever. He said Olive barks and runs around the house in anticipation, and acts disappointed on weekends when the group doesn’t walk and Olive can’t see her friends — like Peggy and Tony Sheridan, who regularly walk with the group.
Once the loop is complete, the group bids their farewells and heads their separate ways for the day, ready to do it all again tomorrow.
IF YOU GO:
Waterford Beach Park is located at 305 Great Neck Road. The limited parking fills up quickly and visitors are warned to arrive early on weekends, according to the town’s website.
Seasonal parking passes for the park can be purchased at the Waterford Community Center for residents, while non-residents can purchase passes at the gate, according to the town’s website.
For residents of Waterford, registration for the first car in a family is $25 and $11 for each additional car in the same household. For non-residents, it is $125 per vehicle.
Senior citizens can pay $11 for a sticker to cover the entire season, or show their driver’s license at the gate each time to enter for free.
Residents who wish to walk or ride their bike into the park can get a $2 wristband while non-residents will have to pay $10.
Pets are not allowed on the beach during normal hours in the months of June, July, August and September, per a local ordinance.
Editor’s note: This version corrects John Bashaw’s surname.