Connecticut is not exactly known for having long, walkable stretches of shoreline. Not unless you want to be arrested for trespassing on someone's private beach or jetty.
But there is a place where you can walk along a beach on Long Island Sound for more than a mile. And anyone – no matter their age or walking ability – can easily navigate the walk. And – the best part – it's free.
Welcome to the Niantic Bay boardwalk. Billed as "one of ... the nicest waterfront walkways in the state," the boardwalk is accessible to everyone. During my visit I watched young children running on it, senior citizens using canes, a man in a wheelchair, and couples relaxing on one of the more than 100 memorial benches that line the boardwalk.
The main access to the boardwalk is through Cini (pronounced Cheeny) Memorial Park, located under a bridge over the Niantic River. A tunnel under the railroad tracks takes visitors to the start of the boardwalk. A cool breeze laden with the briny scent of the Sound and the sight of waves gently rolling in greets visitors as they emerge from the shadows.
Motorboats and fishing vessels making their way along the Nehantic Gut pass by Dominion's Millstone Power Station in the distance. Prior to the construction of the nuclear power plant, Millstone Point was home to quarrying operations that supplied granite for homes and city buildings as well as famous landmarks like Grand Central Terminal, the base of the Statue of Liberty and Fort Trumbull.
Visitors to the Niantic boardwalk will find a sandy beach on one side, with views out to Plum Island and the eastern tip of Long Island. On the other side is the elevated track of Amtrak's Northeast Corridor. During my visit, an Acela and several passenger trains came roaring past mere feet from the boardwalk. While visitors start well below the tracks, the boardwalk eventually rises above the tracks with views out across the scenic Niantic River – at one time a mecca of bay scallop harvesting.
The main portion of the boardwalk ends abruptly, as the western portion is temporarily closed due to damage from recent storms. A path travels down to McCook Point – named after the "fighting McCooks" of Hartford, 15 of whom fought in the Civil War, according to an interpretive sign.
Those who want to extend their visit can walk around the park and enjoy the views of lobster pots piled high, and check out the catches from the handicapped-accessible fishing pier. A sidewalk near the park entrance brings visitors to a wooded walkway that runs along the northern portion of Main Street to the many shops and restaurants in Niantic.
It's unfortunate that part of the boardwalk comes to an abrupt end with warning signs and orange fencing, but I was actually grateful, because it gives me an excuse to return.
Access to the boardwalk is through Cini Park on Route 156 just east of the center of Niantic. The boardwalk and beach is open to anyone Monday through Thursday. On Friday, Saturdays and Sunday through Labor Day, there is a charge for the beach, but free parking is available for the boardwalk.
Peter Marteka may be reached at 860-647-5365, at pmarteka@ courant.com or at The Courant, 200 Adams St., Manchester, CT 06040.Copyright © 2015, CT Now