Read the New London Day’s account of the March 31 TRHP informational meeting

Staff reporter Judy Benson did a great job of summing up the points made at Thursday’s presentation.

Thames park organizers recount progress, entreat support for project

Published April 01. 2016 8:15PM | Updated April 01. 2016 10:52PM j.benson@theday.com

New London — Planners and promoters of the Thames River Heritage Park gave a 90-minute pep talk and call to action Thursday to representatives of the historic sites and three municipalities it would encompass, building to a climactic ending by announcing the selection of an operator for the water taxi service.

“As charming and important and meaningful these smaller niche cultural institutions are, they are not, by themselves, going to flourish,” Alan Plattus, director of the Yale Urban Design Workshop and author of a blueprint for the park, told about 90 people invited to The Garde for the presentation.

“This park is a framework within which to bring them together and make the whole greater than the sum of its parts. With the right sort of infrastructure, marketing and leadership, these sites could take their rightful place,” he said.

The meeting, hosted by the transition team that’s been organizing the park, concluded with an announcement that Jacalyn and David Dietrich of Voluntown have been selected to operate the water taxi service this summer, ferrying visitors between historic sites on the New London and Groton sides of the Thames River.

Jacalyn Dietrich said Friday that their company, Thames River Water Taxi LLC, is working to secure insurance for the operation.

Once that is in place, she said, a contract will be signed with Groton City, the owner of the two surplus Navy vessels that will be used for the service.

Jacalyn Dietrich said the fees passengers will be charged to ride the taxis are not yet finalized.

During the forum Thursday, Plattus emphasized the central role of the water taxi service in bringing the various elements of the park together.

He described the park as a “platform” to tell the story of the region and its relationship to the river by connecting more than a dozen existing historic sites.

It would have four anchor sites — Fort Griswold State Park and the Submarine Force Museum in Groton; and Fort Trumbull State Park and the proposed National Coast Guard Museum in New London.

Copies of a park map and guide were distributed at the meeting.

“The center of the region and the shared public space for your community is the river itself,” Plattus said. “The water is the place where there are the best views. That’s where you understand things.”

Plattus listed what needs to be accomplished to bring the park from concept to reality:

  • Coordination of schedules of the historic and cultural sites included in the park
  • Better routes to connect the sites and the waterfront on both sides of the river for pedestrians, bicyclists, and boaters.
  • Continuing revitalization of Thames Street in Groton.
  • Significant improvements to Fort Griswold to tell its story vividly to visitors.
  • Better and more linkages between the downtown transportation hub in New London and Fort Trumbull.
  • Continuing work to bring about the construction of the Coast Guard Museum.
  • Improved interpretation and marketing of the heritage resources of the region.

Plattus emphasized that the park project not only is about providing a better showcase for the region’s historic assets, but also an economic and cultural development initiative. He also noted that nationwide, heritage tourism is the fastest growing segment of the tourism market.

“This is not just to recognize the past, but to move this region forward and celebrate the work that’s going on here today, which still has the river and its shorelines at its core,” he said.

He also encouraged representatives of the attractions that would be tied together in the park to take an active role in seeing that it is fully realized.

“We are, at best, the orchestra directors,” he said, referring to the park planners. “We don’t get much music unless the local citizens play along with us.”

Chris Cox of Groton, chairman of the park transition team, also urged more people get involved.

“We expect the park to take several years to mature,” he said. “We want your partnership. We want your imagination and your participation going forward.”