The front page article in the Sunday, Jan. 5, edition of The Westerly Sun was very interesting. The University of Rhode Island students’ had many imaginative plans to revitalize Misquamicut. The one plan that really jumped out to me was the development of an environmental education center.
I have personally wanted to see the town develop this sort of thing since the town acquired the Wuskenau Beach property and pond-side property. There is ample space in the parking area and salt marsh by the water slide property for an education and environmental center. A pond access point for kayaking could be a major part of the project. Bird-watching platforms similar to those on Charleston pond near Grassy Point could be added for everyone’s use. Westerly schools’ science classes could utilize the center for field projects, estuary study and marine science classes. Residents and visitors could get a close, year-round look at the marsh and pond environment. Right now, there is no public-access point to the pond. It’s hard to generate interest in preserving or enhancing something when no one can get near it.
An education center would be a real asset for our school system, as well as a point of interest for residents and visitors. Along with bird-watching platforms, a raised-walkway platform to the pond could be added for kayak launching. How many residents or school children get to see the workings of a real estuary marsh? How many ever get to see a marsh hawk or a snowy owl silently prowling the marshes? Or, how many have seen schools of bait fish and snapper blues, or all the varieties of crabs, clams, mussels and other wildlife? There’s a small herd of deer living on the Misquamicut marsh. There are migrating shorebirds such as willet, plovers, yellowlegs, sandpipers, turnstones, as well as many ducks, brant and Canada geese. There’s an enormous educational resource to observe and study at the salt marshes.
School students could have hands-on experience studying the influence of moon phases on tidal action. They could learn how to observe and record semester-long studies of plant growth, or witness actual marsh changes from pollution. They would get to see the real damage done to a marsh estuary by violent storms or see the impact of junk and garbage left on the salt marsh. But, again, with no access to the pond and wetlands, there’s no real connection or feeling of stewardship to protect this valuable resource.
Back in the ’50s, we called what is now Winnapaug Pond, Brightman’s Pond. Somewhere back in the ’70s, I guess there was a name change. We spent many summer days on Winnapaug and Quonochantaug ponds. Anyone could easily go clamming, crabbing, flounder fishing, sailing and boating. We learned about the wildlife, tides and the value of the salt ponds. But now, there is only one access area on Qunnie Pond, and none on Winnapaug Pond. Now, parking and tow-zone signs have become so prevalent it’s almost impossible for the public to get near the ponds. Today’s school children and most adults only read about wetlands and the importance of estuary protection. Westerly has a unique opportunity to develop and add a real asset to our town. And this resource already belongs to us and is right at our beach. Instead of using it just as a mere parking lot, for 10 weeks a year, it could be promoted into a real year-round addition to our community for our schools, residents and visitors alike to be used for public access, educational and environmental protection.
I’m sure many residents have good ideas for protecting and enhancing the shoreline and promoting public access. I hope more people write in with more views and ideas about effective utilization of the shoreline. That big trampoline sounds like a lot of fun.