Two surplus Navy vessels secured for Thames River water taxi service
In a major boost for plans to create a new state park by connecting existing historic sites along the lower Thames River, organizers on Monday learned that the Navy has approved their request for two surplus utility boats that will be used to ferry park visitors across the river.
“The park, it seems, will begin now,” said Chris Cox, chairman of the Thames River Heritage Park Transition Team. “The boats will enable the park to become what it was meant to be. This makes it real.”
Groton City Mayor Marian Galbraith, who has been leading efforts to secure vessels to be used as water taxis, said the two 40-foot boats currently are in storage in Virginia. She learned from the state Department of Administrative Services that the federal General Services Administration approved the request for the boats for a service charge of $100 each. The boats originally were purchased for about $137,500 and used to transport troops to larger ships.
Galbraith said arrangements have been made with a vessel-moving company to transport the boats from Virginia to Crocker’s Boatyard in New London, where they will be kept for storage and refurbishing in preparation for beginning water taxi service next summer. Boatyard owner David Crocker, who is also the city’s harbormaster, offered space at his marina for free to the park.
“Personally,” Crocker said, “I think a water taxi in town is going to be good for everybody. We just reached out and made the offer. It’ll be good for the river.”
Cox said the boatyard is the first business to become a park sponsor. Crocker said he hopes his gesture will prompt other businesses to get involved.
“We’re very grateful to Dave Crocker,” Galbraith said.
The boats should arrive in the next few weeks, Galbraith said. They will need some engine and electrical work and outfitting with life preservers and a canopy, among other modifications. The plan is to keep them as close to their original condition as possible so that park visitors will experience riding on an actual Navy vessel.
The work on the boats will be paid for with some of the $230,000 allocated for the first two years of operation of the water taxi. About $200,000 of the funds came from the state, and the remainder from the three municipalities with park sites — Groton Town, Groton City and New London.
Galbraith said a potential operator for the water taxi service has come forward.
“We’re working with someone who has given us plans,” she said. “But we haven’t signed a contract yet.”
In the fall of 2014, the park planning group ran a successful trial of weekend water taxi service between downtown New London, Fort Trumbull State Park in New London, downtown New London and Fort Griswold State Park in Groton. The three sites, along with the Submarine Force Museum-USS Nautilus in Groton and the proposed National Coast Guard Museum in New London, would be anchor sites for the park. More than a dozen smaller sites also would be incorporated into the proposed park.
The concept for the park is to connect existing independent historic and cultural attractions on both sides of the Thames River under a common theme, programming, signage and other elements.
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