Wednesday, January 28, 2015

An Uncas Leap of Faith

You may have missed it in the rush of news and noise about Bill Belichick's invention of the self-inflating football on Friday afternoon but persistence and patience were rewarded as the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development (DEEP) Office of Brownfield Remediation and Development awarded $300,000 to Norwich to study the environmental clean-up needs at what's left of the Artform building on Yantic Street as part of a larger plan to create the Uncas Leap Heritage Area.

Seven projects from across the state will benefit from $2.2 million in grants through the Historic Brownfield and Revitalization Program, announced by Governor Malloy. The press release announcing the grants outlines using the money for assessing environmental and structural conditions, creating and implementing community-driven reuse plans for 'historical significant brownfield sites.'

I'm sure someone very smart somewhere can tell us what the various projects represent, but I confess to only being interested in the one for here.  I'd like to believe, in light of the competition for finite state money, it means Norwich is taking an important step in turning the scenic secret of Uncas Falls into a critical component of the (so) oft-discussed historic tourism aspect of an economic development plan.

There have been a lot of workshops and discussion groups and planning committees but as Bob Dylan once offered, "money doesn't talk, it swears" and without a first investment from someone and capital infusion that helps convert talk to action, we'd still all be looking at one another and hoping for help coming over the horizon.

I'm always amazed and a little dismayed at the number of Norwich residents who've never visited Uncas Leap and thrilled to the roar of the falls and marveled at the beauty of the gorge carved out by the Yantic River in its rush to the Norwich Harbor and the Thames.

It was the site of a 17th century battle between the Narragansett and Mohegan tribes and later, those rushing waters powered early industrial development by English settlers.

Don't think a cash-strapped state government came up with that money out of the goodness of their hearts. Perhaps, the state saw what a growing number of others have seen and spoken up about in recent years: an opportunity to develop and historic and scenic local landmark into a regional attraction. In any event, they didn't come to that conclusion by themselves, without help.

For volunteers from the Norwich Historical Society, the Mohegan Tribe, the Norwich Community Development Corporation working together with one another and with a variety of municipal departments, receipt of the grant closes a long chapter in the story of Uncas Leap, while propelling and compelling them towards beginning the next one.

They won't have a lot of time to do much more than catch their collective breath before turning their attention to what's next in researching, planning and working to leverage more funding requiring even more work before a visitor's center celebrating a site of breathtaking beauty and regional historical import can be created as part of a plan to successfully market the Uncas Leap Heritage Area as a destination worth a trip from anywhere to see and experience.
-bill kenny 

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