“In the Eye of the Beholder”-The Niantic Bay Boardwalk

East Lyme Public Trust Foundation Our History, Uncategorized

In 2020, during the corona virus pandemic, as people eagerly seek respite on the Niantic Bay Boardwalk from being “sheltered in place”, it is hard to imagine that when the Boardwalk was first proposed, the idea was met with fierce opposition.  Once the East Lyme Library opens again, the history lovers can consult two scrapbooks of newspaper articles from that era.

  In 2005, just before the first dedication, I submitted this letter to the Editor to The Day, hoping to create a more favorable opinion of the boardwalk.  I am fairly certain that a very favorable opinion now exists.

          A few days before the Ribbon Cutting of the Niantic Bay Overlook, a reporter for the New London Day wrote a column about the Overlook.  Although the reporter eventually made some positive statements about the project, the tone of the article was very ambivalent. As I reflected upon that article, I was once again made aware of the fact that different people can look at the same sights and see very differently.

          One comment that the reporter made was that the entrances to the Overlook lacked glamour.  I am not even sure what a glamorous entrance would look like; however, my thoughts as I enter are quite different.  Whenever I enter at the Hole-in-the-Wall, I am always delighted by that first view of the jetty, the sailboats in the mid-ground, and on clear days, the view to Long Island.  I also am always impressed by the huge, carefully shaped stones, which support the railroad tracks.  I wonder if they might have been quarried just across the bay at Millstone.  The gigantic timbers that form the top of the underpass are truly impressive as they support the tracks while framing this first view of the Bay.

          Whenever I enter at the Niantic River Underpass, I anticipate the coolness, dimness, and closeness that I find at that underpass.  It reminds me of the Grottos in Italy that tourists flock to see.  The underpass serves to focus and concentrate one’s senses to receive the beautiful sight of the expanse of bright, shimmering water and the graceful sweep of the Bay to the west.  These approaches never disappoint me.

          The article also took note of poison ivy being present.  Upon closer inspection, I did see one patch of poison ivy beyond the fence of the Overlook, near the railroad tracks.  What the reporter failed to mention was the array of beautiful wildflowers that line the Overlook.  I have been contented with a profusion of Chicory, Queen Anne’s lace, Mullein, and Peppergrass.  In the sandy areas of the beach, walkers will see the Beach Plum whose pink flowers have now turned to orangey “plums”, interspersed with Wild Sweet Peas.  There are so many other varieties of which I don’t know the names.  I look forward to educational tours with a Botanist.

          Also mentioned in the article was the statement that the trees were scraggily.  Directly on the Overlook, there is only one clump of trees of a variety related to the Sumac Tree.  Whenever I approach that clump of trees, I am heartened to rest a few minutes on the bench before I make the mile walk back to where I started.  I never think “scraggly”.  On the contrary, I think of the endurance and adaptability of these trees that have been able to survive in this place of wind and waves and sand, while providing walkers with a much-needed respite of shade.

One should also take note of the rocks that make up the Riprap and the Jetty.  These rocks that are red, pink, black, white, and gray, glitter with mica in the bright sun, reminding us of the glacial forces that formed the Bay.  I also look forward to educational tours with a geologist who will point out the various types of rocks to be found here.

          Along the way, I can always tell people who are walking the Overlook for the first time, because they are engrossed with reading the very fine educational signs.  What a treat to read signs with titles such as, “Where River Meets the Sea”, “Fishes of the River and Bay”, “Life in an Estuary”, “Glacial Legacy”, and “Stories of the Land”.  Both children and adults show their fascination with the “story” of nature that enfolds here.

          A very special aspect of the Overlook is the opportunity that walkers have to read the messages on the boards and benches.  They commemorate births, anniversaries, the deaths of children whose lives were cut short, and the deaths of ancestors who lived long and fruitful lives.  The messages express sentiments of hope such as, “Dreams do come true” and “May you find peace in this place”. Years in the future, historians will value these precious reflections of small town life in America at the beginning of the 21st Century.

          If you tend to focus on poison ivy and are seeking glamour, the Overlook is not the place to come.  However, if you are moved by the beauty of nature and by the persistence of the human spirit of the volunteers that made this dream a reality, come down to this Boardwalk. “That’s where I’ll be”.

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