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On the waterfront: Accessible walks abound along the region’s shore

Home-buyers, hotel guests and restaurant patrons pay a premium for water views, but the charge is always the same for hikers: free.

Sweeping vistas of the shoreline spread out at Barn Island State Wildlife Management Area in Stonington, Bluff Point Coastal Reserve in Groton and Rocky Neck State Park in East Lyme, where hikers can hoof it for miles on well-marked hiking trails.

Not everyone, though, has the time or capacity for long outings on terrain that can be challenging.

Families with small children, less-active seniors, people in wheelchairs, or workers on a lunch break can enjoy access to short rambles on smooth, flat surfaces along the water. A sampling:

Avery Point, Groton

A brick walkway that passes a sculpture garden and lighthouse follows the perimeter of the University of Connecticut campus, providing dazzling views of the Thames River to the west, Fishers Island and Long Island sounds to the south and Pine Island Bay to the east.

Equally stunning is the Branford House Mansion, a lavish summer house built in 1904 by Morton Plant, a railroad, steamship and hotel magnate. Plant’s 72-acre property was turned over to the state in the 1930s and converted to UConn’s southeastern campus in 1967. 

When I visited last Sunday morning, it had been stifling hot and humid only a few miles inland, but a brisk southwest wind off the water made for a refreshingly cool stroll. A dozen or so others had the same idea; with students gone for the semester, there was plenty of room to spread out.

It takes only about 15 minutes to walk the path at a casual pace, but with so many features to explore and linger, what’s the rush?

Only a couple miles northeast of Avery Point, the Poquonnock River Walkway presents a welcome respite from a busy commercial corridor.

From a small parking lot on Route 1 next to small businesses, this wooden boardwalk hugs the river’s east bank for about a half-mile before ending on Depot Road, just north of a railroad overpass. From there, hikers can continue south to Bluff Point, where gravel paths lead to more expansive views of the river and sound. Ambling to the state park via this the often-overlooked boardwalk can be a preferable alternative to driving on the bumpy park access road.

Simply strolling the secluded boardwalk is ample reward, though. The heady fragrance of honeysuckle wafted through the air, while redwing blackbirds swooped and issued their distinctive chip/chap calls.

New London Waterfront Park

For people who live or work in downtown, the city’s waterfront park is an ideal place to stretch the legs while taking in a variety of sights and sounds: blasts of ferry horns mingle with train whistles; powerboats, sailboats and every so often a submarine ply the Thames River; diners pack decks on Bank Street restaurants; people cast fishing lines from piers; a guitarist strums from a park bench — it’s always busy, and entertaining.

How great it would be if the city somehow worked out a deal with Amtrak to extend the walkway across Shaw’s Cove to Fort Trumbull State Park.

Ocean Beach Park, New London

Sure, most people visit this iconic landmark to swim or sun in the sand, but the broad boardwalk is a popular walking destination, helping secure the park’s well-deserved reputation as the Pride of New London.

The Alewife Cove Nature Trail, a worthy detour, extends from the west end of the boardwalk.

The city may have stirred controversy in 2000 when it used eminent domain to seize land from the Fort Trumbull neighborhood; in retrospect, few would object to the same process that was applied to create a public beach following the 1938 hurricane.

Harkness Memorial State Park, Waterford

Like Avery Point, this 237-acre park is graced by a palatial mansion, Eolia, once the summer home of Edward and Mary Harkness.

If you can take your eyes off this ornate structure and surrounding gardens, you can gaze across a broad lawn at Long Island Sound while strolling on a perimeter path.

Edward Harkness expanded inherited wealth through investments in Standard Oil; the couple donated extensively to a variety of philanthropic causes and educational institutions.

Some would say their estate’s greatest gift was this state park.

Niantic Bay Boardwalk

Some tightwads may grumble about spending taxpayers’ dollars, but for my money, using public funds to create wonderful walking areas is a valuable investment for any community.

The boardwalk, which stretches 1.1 miles between Cini Park and railroad bridge at its east end, to the Hole-in-the Wall Beach to the west, is one of East Lyme’s most prized assets.

It draws a wide range of users: families pushing strollers, seniors with canes, power-walkers, casual joggers and serious runners, all enjoying expansive views of the bay.

You might jump when an Amtrak train thunders past only yards away, but the boardwalk is otherwise perfect for a relaxing stroll.

A number of other shoreline walkways beckon within a day’s drive of southeastern Connecticut. Next week: a look at a few of the best.

 

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