Misquamicut Business Association President George Tattersall, left, and MBA Executive Director Caswell Cooke Jr. discuss recreational possibilities at Winnapaug Pond. | (Cynthia Drummond / The Westerly Sun)
October 16, 2015 09:42AM
By CYNTHIA DRUMMOND
Sun Staff Writer
MISQUAMICUT — At the invitation of Town Planner Marilyn Shellman, 15 landscape architecture students from the University of Rhode Island have submitted several designs for the revitalization of the Misquamicut community.
The students’ Misquamicut Beach Project focused on the Winnapaug Pond area, bordered by Atlantic Avenue to the south, Shore Road to the north, and Weekapaug and Winnapaug roads to the east and west.
Some of their concepts were practical while others were more dramatic and even playful. All the designs incorporated features intended to provide for adaptation to climate change, protection of the environment and sustainable stormwater management.
The proposals included an oyster reef to help reduce wave damage, an underwater museum and restaurant, and an environmental education center. In one design, a long, inflatable trampoline, removable in stormy weather, served as a whimsical, bouncy bridge across the pond.
In a more sobering design, called the Misquamicut Dune Reserve, one student envisioned the area as having been wiped clean of all structures by storms and the rising sea. That concept was focused on creating an extensive dune system where houses and businesses once stood, and introducing aquaculture to Winnapaug Pond.
Misquamicut Business Association President George Tattersall and Executive Director Caswell Cooke Jr., who is also a member of the Westerly Town Council, said the designs offered fresh ideas to offer a more varied experience for people who didn’t want to spend all their time at the beach.
Tattersall and Cooke suggested that people could enjoy the entire Misquamicut area with a hike in Glacier Park off Tom Harvey Road, launching kayaks or stand-up paddleboards on the salt pond, or riding their bicycles. Tattersall said he hoped that additional recreational opportunities would tempt visitors to stay longer and eat dinner in a local restaurant before heading home.
“You’re going to enjoy the whole area, so you may go to the beach one day, go shopping in Watch Hill, eat downtown, take a bike ride down through Weekapaug,” he said.
Both men would like to see a dedicated bike path along Atlantic Avenue, from Paddy’s Beach Club to the Ride a Wave surf shop. Tattersall pointed out that with hotels at one end of Atlantic Avenue and activities at the other, families need a safe way to get around.
“During the day, they ride the rides, it gets dark, and when they come back, they have to walk through a pitch black state beach parking lot, or on the side of the road here, with very few streetlights. And when people are texting and driving, they suddenly look up, ‘There’s a family.’ In a week’s vacation in Misquamicut, we don’t want anybody ever to have that unsafe feeling,” he said.
Westerly’s Comprehensive Plan already includes bike paths, and at the Nov. 25 Town Council meeting, local resident Fred DeGrooth spearheaded the formation of a committee to explore potential locations for building them. Cooke said the timing of the committee was perfect.
“It all came together,” he said. “There was a group of people in town who want to do bike trails around town. There was George who a year ago said ‘we need to connect both ends of the beach with a walking or bike trail with lights.’”
Another Misquamicut feature with potential to become one of the area’s major attractions is Winnapaug Pond. Tattersall said that more people are choosing to visit the pond rather than the beach, because the calm, shallow water makes it attractive to families with small children as well as kayakers and standup paddle boarders. He noted that it made sense to add a public path to the pond, since people were walking through the brush to get there
“I’m seeing it more and more. People are finding their way to that pond without any access,” he said.
Cooke said the students’ designs coincided with plans by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer to replenish the beach and dredge Winnapaug Pond.
“These URI designs fit into a larger picture. One is obviously the 90,000 cubic yards of sand that are coming this winter to redo the state beach to bring it out to 1960, where it was. Phase two of that replenishment would be the dredging of the pond which hopefully will take place next year,” Cooke said.
Tattersall said he was impressed by the way the students looked at the entire area, prompting him to think about Misquamicut in a new way.
“These kids from all over the country who have never been here before, they approached it in a whole different way,” he said. “They weren’t thinking about Westerly politics or anything. They just looked at this area and said, ‘How can you make it a great place people could enjoy, locals and tourists?’”
Professor Richard Sheridan said this was one of several projects his students had done for the Town of Westerly.
“It’s always fantastic to work with Marilyn Shellman,” he said. “She understands the students, and she understands the education process they need to go through. She also understands the needs of Westerly.”
Shellman estimated the town had paid between $3,000 and $5,000 for printing and materials for the project.
The students also had input from Executive Director Grover Fugate and Coastal Geologist Janet Freedman of the state Coastal Resources Management Council.
“They were very helpful with us. I think they were pleased with what they saw,” Sheridan said. “They were looking for creative ideas, not ideas with respect to regulations at this time.”