A steady stream of visitors came to the dedication and ribbon-cutting at River Park to try the town’s new kayak rental program.
There was a steady stream of visitors to the town’s newest park on Saturday, Sept. 13 – many of them took advantage of an offer to try the town’s new kayak rental program for free.
“It’s been a great day. A lot of the people doing this have never been in a kayak before,” said Assistant Director of Parks and Recreation, Bette Day Stern.
In fact there continued to be a line of youngsters and adults waiting to take to the water as a group of about 40 gathered for the formal dedication and ribbon-cutting for River Park.
The town has just “launched” a program where residents can rent a kayak for $5 a day, thanks to a grant from the Healthy Eating, Active Living (HEAL) program – administered through the Eastern Highlands Health District.
Kayaks must be reserved 48 hours in advance, and kayaks are picked up at the Mansfield Community Center between 7:30 and 9 a.m. The town currently has eight kayaks available. (For details about the rental program, call Parks and Recreation at 429-3015.)
First wheelchair-accessible launch
River Park, the town’s new recreation area, encompasses 10 acres located along the Willimantic River, off of Plains Road.** It includes the town’s first wheelchair-accessible canoe/kayak launch which dips gently into a flat-water cove off of the river.
It also includes a huge, mostly level field where other activities can be enjoyed, including kite flying, picnicking or just tossing a Frisbee.
During the park’s dedication, Parks Coordinator Jennifer Kaufman said that this park was first envisioned by the town’s Open Space Preservation Committee 20 years ago.
Various pieces of the project have come together now, thanks to the support, hard work and funding of a number of people and organizations, she said.
This includes Tom Callahan at the University of Connecticut helping with the transfer of the land from UConn to the town, former council member Tim Quinn who generously has allowed a park trail to link to his property at Lynch Landing, the Willimantic River Alliance and its role in the creation of the Willimantic River Greenway, and the state Department of Environmental Protection which provided major funding for the project.
UConn students in the architecture program also had a hand in the park’s design and on dedication day, members of UConn’s chapter of Pi Beta Phi helped plant 21 shrubs that the sorority got funding for through a grant from the Connecticut Society of Women Environmental Professionals.
Director of Parks and Recreation Curt Vincente said Kaufman also deserved credit for coordinating all the parts so that the park could become a reality. “She’s a part-time person who does full-time work,” he said. “All of this couldn’t happen without someone to coordinate all the parts.”
He noted that the town is “blessed” to have a number of parks with access to a river including Merrow Meadow, Lynch Landing and the Eagleville Preserve on the Willimantic River, and Mount Hope Park on the Mount Hope River.
“We are grateful to the Open Space Preservation Committee but also to the people of Mansfield who voted to fund these open space projects,” Vincente said.
Connecticut DEP Trails and Greenway Coordinator Laurie Giannotti said that the DEP’s goal when involved with projects such as River Park is to combine protection of natural resources with recreation, “which doesn’t always blend very well,” she said.
“But with this park, we see how it can,” she added.
Enjoy it – and protect it
Willimantic River Alliance President Laurence Diamond said that the more people enjoy local resources, such as a river, the more likely they will care enough about them to protect them. “The Willimantic River, up until recently, has been somewhat of a secret and that’s what puts a river in jeopardy… parks like this are essential to the protection of a river,” he said, and acknowledged the efforts of the Willimantic River Alliance to make sure the river stays clean.
Betty Robinson, who is kayak paddle leader with the Appalachian Mountain Club - and a fixture in town when it comes to canoing and kayaking – also stressed the need to protect the Willimantic River. “If you want to have a good time in the river, you want to take care of the river,” she said.
State Rep. Denise Merrill noted that she’s enjoyed kayaking in the Willimantic River, “and I am very well aware of how great it is to have this river… when you are paddling on it, you could be in Vermont,” she said and added that the River Park is the result of “great work by everybody.”
Tim Quinn gave credit to his father-in-law for preserving the land where the Willimantic River Greenway Midriver Trail has been created. “It’s his farm road,” Quinn said, but added that he did build the landing – out of old railroad ties – at Lynch Landing. He also asked for help clearing that area. “I want people to use it, but I need help because it’s pretty badly overgrown – but we can open up that landing again,” he said.
** [Plains Road is located near the intersection of Routes 44 and 32. It is on the right immediately after Depot Road, when traveling towards Willimantic on Route 32.]
For more information: http://mansfield.htnp.com/news/56.html