Town officials, residents look to promote natural beauty of rivers

Volunteers in four towns, (Hopkinton, North Stonington, Stonington and Westerly) have put together a 6-point kayak/canoe trail from Potter Hill Fam to Donahue Park and beyond. The trail will celebrate a grand opening in the coming weeks. 

 

When the Wood-Pawcatuck rivers were designated as “Wild & Scenic” by the federal government in 2018, North Stonington resident William Ricker said that almost immediately, it led to a sharing of ideas between town officials and nature lovers throughout the region who wanted to better promote the natural beauty that the corridor had to offer.

Among the concepts discussed was a continuous kayak/canoe trail that would span the river, an effort to enhance the ability for area residents and visitors to use the rivers, enjoy nature and have easy access with several points to access the water from Hopkinton to Little Narragansett Bay. It didn’t take leadership long to accept and support the idea, and the Lower Pawcatuck River Quad-Town Kayak/Canoe Trail was born.

Volunteers and officials with all four communities are preparing to toast completion of the project on Sept. 19, with a small grand opening ceremony and ride that will stretch from Hopkinton to Donahue Park in downtown Pawcatuck. The program will begin at noon in Hopkinton, with participants kayaking from there to a new access point at Boombridge Road in North Stonington. There will be a brief welcome around 12:45 p.m. at that location as well, organizers said.     

“This is something that is going to provide great opportunities for those in all of our surrounding communities,” Ricker said Thursday. “The town did not have a launch before, so this will truly open up town-owned land for public use.”

The new river trail, as designated in brochures that have begun circulating to area residents, will begin at the intersection of Laurel Street in Hopkinton near the Potter Hill Dam. The trail will then continue to a put-in and 20-car parking space at the end of Post Office Lane, over to an entry point about 50-feet from the Boombridge Road bridge, to a put-in point at a dirt access along White Rock Road, with take-out locations at Donahue Park and the Westerly Boat Ramp.

There is limited parking at all location, officials said. Stronger boaters will also have the opportunity to continue beyond the final take-out point, heading five miles each way to Little Narragansett Bay if they so choose.

First Selectman Michael Urgo said that following the initial discussions were incredibly positive between town leaders, including Westerly Town Manager J. Mark Rooney and then-Stonington First Selectman Rob Simmons, and it was pretty quickly determined that such a project could have immense benefits with little or no cost for the communities.

“This is a great way to create a strong connection between neighbors, and to offer something that those in each of these four towns can enjoy and be proud of,” Urgo said. “We are looking forward to celebrating what this has become.”

Urgo said it was then that others, including Ricker, stepped up to help even before they could be asked.

Ricker said the community received a lot of support, but noted that the project led to strong collaboration between himself and others including Westerly Conservation Commission Chairman Joseph McAndrew, former Hopkinton Conservation Commission Chairman Harvey Buford and David Hammond, who serves as chairman of the Stonington Economic Development Commission.

One of the biggest challenges in setting up the trail, however, was the fact that North Stonington did not yet have a water access point of their own.

Ricker said the group located a spot just off the bridge that would work, but accessing the property was difficult because a portion of the land was owned by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation. When they approached Mashantucket Pequot Chairman Rodney Butler, Ricker said he was incredibly supportive and agreed to work a deal to help provide public access.

“We were able to work with him and the state to help the tribe receive a ‘hold harmless form,’” Ricker said. The state granted the request, which under Connecticut statute allows an entity to allow for public use of a trail at the user’s risk, meaning the tribe could not be sued by someone using the path for access.

The new access is already available, officials said, as are the other put-in and take-out points. A formal date for a grand opening has not been set, but officials said an announcement would be made in the coming weeks.

“There’s been a lot of effort and support from many volunteers and businesses on this, and we are really hopeful that the public will be able to enjoy what the wild and scenic nature of what this river has become,” Ricker said.

jvallee@thewesterlysun.com

 

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