4 October 2018
By Göran R Buckhorn
This is the opinion of HTBS editor Göran R Buckhorn.*
These are not easy times for the Mystic River Boathouse Park Implementation Committee. After having received warm applause from the approximately 70 people gathered at a meeting at Latitude 41° Restaurant on 11 October for the unveiling of the proposed master plan for a Hart Perry Boathouse located on the Mystic River in the Mystic River Boathouse Park, the boathouse design was heavily criticized on social media.
The social medialists didn’t think that the $2.5 million boathouse, which is going to be funded by private donors, was in line with the architecture in New England and wanted to see a boathouse like the ones in Boston and in Philadelphia, along the famous Boathouse Row on the Schuylkill River.
‘No, we were not surprised, and we wanted feedback from the community,’ John Thornell, Stonington High School crew varsity girls coach and board member of Friends of Stonington Crew, told HTBS at the time.
‘We’ll do another forum. We want this to be a community building. We want people to be excited about it in a good way,’ Mike O’Neill, the director of rowing for the Friends of Stonington Crew and vice chairman of the Mystic River Boathouse Park Implementation Committee, told the local newspaper The Day in an interview.
A couple of days ago, The Day published an article that Rob Simmons, first selectman of the town of Stonington and the chairman of the Mystic River Boathouse Park Implementation Committee, had received a letter from the Mystic River Park Commission, a group that is in charge of Mystic River Park, which is the grassy area between the Mystic River and Cottrell Street by the bascule bridge in Downtown Mystic. This park is located a mile south of Greenmanville Avenue, or Route 27, where the suggested Hart Perry Boathouse and Mystic River Boathouse Park are going to be built.
Dare I here write that after having lived in Mystic for 18 years, it’s first now I learn the name of Mystic River Park, despite that I have enjoyed picnics on the green and listened to music there during warm summer evenings.
According to The Day article, it seems that the Mystic River Park Commission is concerned that rowing crews would show up at the Mystic River Park in Downtown Mystic to launch their boats instead of the park with the boathouse farther north. The Mystic River Park Committee is now asking the Mystic River Boathouse Park Implementation Committee to change the name of their park.
This question actually came up at the 11 October meeting. Simmons then answered that it would not be likely that any rowing teams coming to compete against the local Stonington High School crew, which would have the Hart Perry Boathouse as a base, would drive to the wrong park. The Stonington crew, which has rowed on the Mystic River for 20 years and organised regattas for other high schools and private schools for almost as long a time, would for sure inform visiting rowing teams to drive to the right park.
And here we are 25 days later and the discussion about changing the Mystic River Boathouse Park name to something else will be debated by the boathouse committee at a meeting tomorrow, Monday, at the local police station in Stonington. According to the article in The Day, Simmons brought up the name “Stonington Boathouse Park”, which ‘would create a sense that it is a park for the whole town [of Stonington] as the whole town paid for it and the whole town would use it.’ (This quote is from the article and not a direct quote from Simmons.)
To understand the above quote, it was at a Stonington town meeting in 2017, that the decision was made to use tax money to pay for the $2.2 million 1.5-acre community park by Greenmanville Avenue, while the boathouse will be privately funded. Other puzzling things for outsiders might be the Mystic-Stonington connection. Mystic is a village divided/connected by the Mystic River. The eastern side of the shoreline of Mystic is part of Stonington, while the western shoreline of Mystic is part of the town of Groton.
My opinion is to keep ‘Mystic River’ in the name of the new park, where the Hart Perry Boathouse is going to be located. To change the name of this community area in Mystic to Stonington Boathouse Park would be confusing. Who says that visiting rowing crews are not driving to the town of Stonington to look for the new park?
Later this year, there will be a community meeting at Stonington High School where the public will be invited to have their say (again) on the design of the Hart Perry Boathouse. I hope that those who took to the key board to berate the boathouse on social media instead of going to the first meeting will find the time to attend this second meeting to let their voices be heard, but also listen to the members of the Mystic River Boathouse Park Implementation Committee – or whatever the committee will be called after tomorrow’s meeting.
‘It’s hard to have a dialogue on social media,’ Thornell told me late last month. ‘Those writing comments were not at the [first] meeting hearing Alex Anmahian talking about the structural constraints and his design inspiration. Whenever I talk with people who aren’t fans of the boathouse design, we can always find a common ground.’
Let’s hope that Thornell is right. To let this superb community project be delayed or upheld in some bureaucratic entanglement would end this year on a sad note.
*There seems to be some confusion regarding HTBS editor Göran R Buckhorn’s connection to the groups working to build the Hart Perry Boathouse and the Mystic River Boathouse Park. He plays no role in these groups, nor is HTBS a vehicle for these groups’ opinions.