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Heritage Park transition team elects former seaport vice president as chairman

New London — Chris Cox of Mystic, a former vice president of development and communications for Mystic Seaport, has been chosen to lead the transition team for the proposed Thames River Heritage Park.

Cox, who also worked for the seaport on the 38th voyage of the whaling ship Charles W. Morgan last year, was elected unanimously during the 19-member transition team’s inaugural meeting on Wednesday.

He said he became aware of the project several months ago in discussions with Penny Parsekian, who has been chairwoman of the steering committee that laid the groundwork for the park. The transition team will now work to bring the park, a network of existing historic sites along the Thames River, to reality.

“History and the humanities and presenting the heritage of this part of the state is good for visitors, but it’s also good for the people who live here,” said Cox, who is now retired. “We have, frankly, an underdeveloped asset. The heritage park’s purpose is to bundle and rekindle interest in exploring what’s already here.”

The group also chose Pamela Adams of Colchester as its secretary, and established five committees to tackle various parts of the project. The five committees are: organization; governance; finance; communications and programming; and water taxi planning and operations.

Among the 19 members are representatives of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, which owns two of the anchor sites, Fort Trumbull in New London and Fort Griswold in Groton.

Another member is Capt. Carl Lahti, commander of the Naval Submarine Base in Groton, the location of another of the anchor sites, the Submarine Force Museum.

Representatives of downtown businesses, the proposed National Coast Guard Museum, the state Office of Military Affairs, the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments and the three municipalities involved — Groton Town, Groton City and New London — also are represented.

During the meeting, the group learned that the City of Groton has requested a donation of two 40-foot surplus Navy utility boats with canopies for use as water taxis to ferry park visitors to sites on both sides of the river. Each boat could carry 33 to 36 passengers.

“They're perfect for what we’re trying to do,” said Groton City Mayor Marian Galbraith. “They’re in good repair, and we’re very optimistic about receiving them.”

She said that if the city receives the boats, they could be readied over the winter so that service could begin in 2016. The city would probably continue to own the vessels, she said, but lease them for $1 a year to the nonprofit that will be created to oversee the park.

The current state budget includes $100,000 for this fiscal year and $100,000 for the next fiscal year to support the water taxi operations.

In other developments, the region’s legislative delegation submitted a request for $855,590 in state Urban Act grants to cover startup costs for the park.

The application was submitted to the state Office of Policy and Management on July 17, said Kristin Havrilla Clarke, economic development specialist for the town of Groton and a member of the park transition team.

The funds would be used to develop signs for the park, determine the best locations for the signs, design a mobile app where visitors can find information about park sites and create parking areas, she said.

The group scheduled its next meeting for 8 a.m. on Aug. 26 at the conference center at Fort Trumbull. In the meantime, each of the five committees will gather for separate meetings to begin action on their various assigned tasks.

j.benson@theday.com

Twitter: @BensonJudy

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