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Everyone Loves Alewife Cove!

By Tom Richardson

New London, Connecticut, is relatively small, but within the city limits are some true outdoor gems waiting to be explored. One of these is Alewife Cove, an ecologically and recreationally important tidal waterway shared by the neighboring town of Waterford.

ENE host Tom Richardson and Steve Fagin paddle through Alewife Cove on a beautiful fall day.

In the fall of 2023, I explored the estuary with local writer and avid outdoorsman Steve Fagin. We met at Ocean Beach Park, where paddlers can unload their kayaks and gear at the pavilion near the cove before parking in the large lot (there is a parking fee during the summer). From the pavilion, it’s a short walk to the beach that borders the mouth of the estuary, just before it connects to Long Island Sound.

Shorebirds such as these greater yellowlegs often feed on the low-tide mud flats of Alewife Cove.

The cove gets its name from the alewife herring, which, along with blueback herring, still return to the estuary each spring in their attempt to spawn in upstream freshwater ponds. However, their passage (and that of paddlers) has been blocked by a dam at Niles Hill Road that was built in the 1970’s. A project that could result in removal of the dam is under consideration, as is the installation of a fish ladder that would allow herring to access their traditional spawning grounds.

Alewife Cove is shared by New London and Waterford, and flows into Long Island Sound adjacent to Ocean Beach.

Paddlers should note that Alewife Cove is very shallow due to large amounts of sand that washed in during Superstorm Sandy in 2012. An effort is currently underway to create and fund a dredging and restoration project for the cove. In the meantime, paddlers should plan on launching a trip on the upper stages of the tide, especially if they want to explore the upper parts of the estuary. A good plan is to paddle upstream near the end of the rising tide and return on the slack or dropping tide. Be forewarned: paddling upstream against a falling tide is hard work!

Egret and herons stalk the marshes of Alewife Cove.

If you are a more experienced paddler, you can navigate the jetty-lined inlet and enter the Sound, but be aware that this passage can be rough at times, with a very strong current. There is often good fishing near the mouth, along Ocean Beach, and around the nearby rocks, so bring a rod if you are so inclined.

A driving force behind the effort to restore, protect, and enhance Alewife Cove is the Alewife Cove Conservancy, which holds annual fundraisers and community paddle events. The group is also instrumental in bringing together members of both communities that share the cove, and helping to make the public aware of the estuary’s importance.

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