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Four more groups join push for Thames River Heritage Park

Editor's Note: This article corrects the name and location of the Connecticut Maritime Commission.

Four key organizations have joined the growing list of supporters of the Thames River Heritage Park since the steering committee for the proposed park last met two months ago, further bolstering efforts to make the park a reality.

The letters of support, from the Connecticut Maritime Commission, the Submarine Force Museum and Library, the City of New London and OpSail Connecticut, will be among the developments to be discussed when the 20-member committee meets at 4:30 p.m. today at the Avery-Copp House in Groton.

"The Thames River Heritage Park is not a mere plan to increase tourism to the southeast region of Connecticut but a framework for regional transportation and economic development that would incorporate cultural, educational and environmental initiatives,"  John Riccio Jr., chairman of the Newington-based maritime commission, wrote in the draft letter. 

"What is needed to move the development of the (park) forward is focused action by the General Assembly and the (state) Department of Energy and Environmental Protection," Riccio said. "DEEP is encouraged to create an implementation plan that would include an aggressive timeline and cost. The General Assembly needs to provide funding to implement the plan."

The addition of the four letters brings to 24 the number of organizations that have submitted letters of support, which could help the group make its case to the state for funding and other support for the park and water taxi that would connect historic sites on both sides of the Thames River. The park, first conceived in 1987 and revived over the last year, would comprise multiple sites near the banks of the Thames, such as the proposed National Coast Guard Museum, Fort Trumbull and Fort Griswold state parks and the Nautilus, tied together with a water taxi, common signs and possibly coordinated programming. In late September, after riding the water taxi during its two-weekend pilot run, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy pledged that his office would work to help bring regular water taxi service to the Thames River by next summer.

In its letter, the Submarine Force Library & Museum Association, which oversees the Nautilus, said the park would enhance its ability to attract visitors and support its mission to educate the public about the heritage and traditions of the submarine force.

"We also see the potential benefit in joining forces with area nonprofits to take advantage of joint marketing, programming, grant fundraising and other opportunities that create efficiencies," wrote Gretchen Marion, executive director of the association. "With the many heritage attractions along the Thames River and the new Coast Guard museum being planned, we believe the whole has the potential to be a greater attraction than the sum of its individual parts."

In addition to discussing the letters, steering committee members also will give updates on various aspects of the park they have been working on, including obtaining funding, state designation and water taxi operations. The committee also has scheduled a meeting with Stephen White, president of Mystic Seaport, for Nov. 25.

j.benson@theday.com

Twitter: @BensonJudy

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