EAST MATUNUCK – When Drew Wheelan opened up the BirdSong Gallery on Succotash Road near East Matunuck State Beach it was a little bit serendipitous and a little bit of poor timing.
The small blue building, located where bird watchers sneak around marsh and kayakers paddle the water had been vacant for years when Wheelan decided to do something different with his life.
Wheelan had just come back from working in the Gulf of Mexico as a photojournalist for a bird organization covering the BP oil spill and its impact on birds when he met the property owner of 797 Succotash Road
“It was a combination of serendipity. I wanted to get work in Rhode Island and this evolved,” Wheelan said.
Seeing the property, which was formerly a gift shop or bait and tackle shop, Wheelan saw it as a chance to open up a gallery in which he could be more creative in his life. The Narragansett resident spent much of his career as a wild life biologist.
“As a biologist I found myself working on conservation projects that always failed. I realized that the projects were never going to happen as long as big business runs the government. It was depressing working as a biologist,” Wheelan said “This way I get to create something positive with my own imagination and skill.”
Opened since Memorial Day, Wheelan has created the BirdSong Gallery, where he sells a blend of fine art photography, painting, locally made clothing, handbags and purses, jewelry and prints with some products for the nature lovers, kids and beach-goers. The gallery features 26 different consignment artists, five painters, three photographers and Wheelan’s own work.
Although Wheelan definitely has no regrets in opening the gallery, he does regret the state Department of Environmental Management’s decision to start construction of the East Matunuck State Beach pavilion this summer.
“The traffic has been reduced from a normal summer from what I hear from residents,” Wheelan said. “There are no facilities. Out of state people are not going to pay $20 to go to a beach with no facilities. When you’re paying that much, [the state] should have offered reduced fees for the lack of services.”
Rhode Island DEM began the demolition of East Matunuck’s pavilion this past May to replace the 1978 bathhouse with a handicap-accessible, LEED Silver-certified energy efficient facility. The construction took away parking spots, concessions and a bathhouse from beachgoers while the new pavilion is being constructed, causing many beachgoers to complain of the inconvenience. The DEM began the $3.9 million project as part of its state capital project to improve the state beach accommodations. The project is expected to be completed by next Memorial Day in May 2012.
Although many people complained of how the project cut into the summertime, state officials said no matter when they started the 12-month project, it would affect a summer. However, Wheelan said the state could have started in the winter or at least made other accommodations for beachgoers.
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