Phase 1: The Original Overlook. This started with “the dream” in 1994 and culminated in the original dedication on July 15, 2005.
The Dream: Development of the Niantic Bay Overlook Project
Author: June Hoye
The power of a dream is incalculable. East Lyme’s dream of providing more access to the town’s waterfront, began in 1866, over 139 years ago, when the residents of East Lyme met to discuss the possibility of constructing a town wharf into Niantic Bay. In her book, The East Lyme Handbook, the late Olive Chendali, the Town Historian, described what later became known as the Wharf Controversy. After heated discussion, because the citizens of that time could not reach agreement, the project was abandoned.
However, the dream was never really forgotten. In 1994, this dream once again surfaced, at a citizens’ planning committee, called Vision 2000, which was working to improve the appearance and quality of life in Niantic and Flanders. With unparalleled enthusiasm, Jay Gionet and Andy Pappas proposed the idea of a boardwalk, which would extend along Niantic Bay from the Hole in the Wall Beach to the Railroad Bridge.
Subsequently, Jay Gionet and Andy Pappas were instrumental in founding the East Lyme Public Trust Foundation, a not-for- profit organization, comprised of residents and business people devoted to the betterment of the Town of East Lyme. As Gionet wrote in 1997, the trust had “come together …to provide an improved quality of life, an environmental educational program, and most importantly, an increase in public access to all people who previously were restricted from the longest stretch of inaccessible coastline in the State of Connecticut.” Gionet went on to describe how the Trust had “taken our message from the doors of our own East Lyme Town Hall, to our State DEP offices, and then on to the steps of Capital Hill.” Each person who helped the project took on a different aspect of the task to assure that the project would become a reality for the residents and visitors to Southeastern Connecticut. Senators, Representatives, Selectmen, Lawyers, Accountants, Biologists, Business people, Engineers, and Educators–all served the Trust in its decade long odyssey to make this dream a reality.
Along the way, there were mountains of forms, letters, applications, and designs to develop. Members of the Trust moved away and were replaced by others. For a time, when the project seemed stalled, this idea again seemed only a distant dream. However, in 2002, Bob DeSanto became President of the Trust. His Executive Committee of John Hoye, Pat Lewis, Andy Pappas, Betty Purvis, Birger Andersen and Bob Sinagra ably assisted him. During this last stretch of the journey, he led the group through many setbacks, crises, and modifications. Through it all, however, his persistence and sheer doggedness kept the project moving forward. They could regularly be found at a breakfast meeting in the front booth at the SeaShell Restaurant, as they discussed the innumerable details and problems that had to be solved. Throughout the many crises, Bob never faltered. He slowly kept moving forward–ever forward–never considering failure to be an option.
President John F. Kennedy once said, “On this Earth, God’s work must truly be our own.” Here in East Lyme, we have seen the truth of this idea. East Lyme has long prided itself on being a Community of Volunteers, who are always willing to give of their time and energy to improve the life of the community. The achievement of the Trust in bringing to a reality this Overlook, continues this tradition of service, demonstrating that a relatively small group of volunteers can make a huge difference in the life of its community. Through this completion of the Niantic Bay Overlook, these women and men of the Trust have improved the quality of life in East Lyme, provided the basis for an environmental educational program, developed an attraction for tourists and visitors, helped increase the potential economic viability of East Lyme, and developed a safe access to Niantic Bay.
The poet, Langston Hughes once wrote, “Hold fast to dreams. For when they die, life is a broken-winged bird that can not fly.” These volunteers were able to implement a successful collaboration between both the Dreamers and the Doers to accomplish this impressive project, which will forever be a heritage to the citizens of our town. They held fast to this dream, so that after 139 years it has become a shining reality. Today, as we commemorate this milestone in the life of our town, there are strong-winged birds soaring above the shores of Niantic Bay as witnesses to this enduring legacy to the generations of East Lyme in the present and in the future.
Educational Signs Completed