Failure To Launch

Alert “06880” reader Scott Smith loves many things about Westport. Kayaking is near the top of his list.

However, all is not ducky on the water. Read on…

Why is there a 3-year wait for a permit to store a kayak for the summer near a launch ramp in Westport?

That question came to mind when I stopped by the Parks & Rec office at Longshore to renew my annual handpass and beach sticker. They’re the tickets to many summer pleasures, and a big reason why Westport is such a great place to live.

I love getting out onto, and into, the water along our beaches, tidal creeks and river banks. For years I kept a small motor boat at Longshore.

Then I downshifted to a kayak, schlepping the big yellow sit-on atop my SUV to various ramps around town: Compo Beach, Longshore, the state launch on the Saugatuck under the I-95 bridge, and the Mill Pond, where I took the scenic route past the oyster shack, through the tunnel under the Sherwood Island Connector, and along the tidal creek to Burying Hill Beach.

The tidal creek at Burying Hill Beach. Scott Smith launched kayaks from here.

The past few seasons, following a car change and increasing age and laziness, I’ve been fortunate to keep my kayak for the summer at Longshore’s E.B. Strait Marina, courtesy of a neighbor’s slot, who liked taking his young daughter out on my old 2-seater.

It’s an easy put-in for a saunter up Gray’s Creek, a jaunt out to Cockenoe, or a venture around Longshore Sailing School to the Saugatuck River. For years I’ve harvested golf balls shanked from the practice range, free for the picking at slack tide.

Fun fact: There are nearly as many enthusiasts of paddle sports – kayaks, canoes, paddleboards – as golfers (around 25 million in the US, depending on which trade group does the counting). Tennis trails both pursuits by quite a bit.

There’s no lack of supply for Westport’s golfers or tennis players. That’s great, and I’m among them. But 3 years to wait for a spot to stash your kayak for the summer?

A kayaker at sunset, between Compo Beach and Owenoke. (Photo/Nico Eisenberger)

I’d like to know why the town has not figured out how to accommodate such an expressed demand for an increasingly popular, and very low impact, recreational pastime. Believe me, I’m still kicking myself for telling my neighbor I’d try to get the permit in my name this year.

I can see how adding parking spots for the train station lots, or boat slips at the marina piers, could come up against hard logistical limits. But how difficult would it be to add a few more wooden trestles to the existing lots at Compo Beach or Longshore?

Better yet, I suggest the town consider adding storage spaces and launch sites around town, for residents to use and help fund. I can think of several spots, including Compo Beach marina near the boat ramp and facilities, and Burying Hill Beach, which also has facilities and ample parking along New Creek (and which is chronically overlooked as a town asset).

Compo Beach has kayak racks near South Beach. Scott Smith would like more. (Photo/Patricia McMahon)

A great new place to launch from would be the lower parking lot at Longshore, which occupies precious frontage on the Saugatuck River and is now mostly used to accommodate wedding-goers at the Inn. Pilings from an old pier remain along the shore; it wouldn’t take much to repurpose a part of the lot as a put-in for paddleboards, canoes, and kayaks, with some seasonal storage.

It may require coordination with the state, but as the striving crews of the Saugatuck Rowing Club and the enterprising folks at Downunder can attest, the river is prime territory for today’s waterborne pursuits (at least when the tide’s right).

The town should bolster access to the Saugatuck for recreational fun. I’m pleased to see that the small park on Riverside Avenue near the VFW has been spruced up, though parking remains an issue. That pocket park could, with the Town’s support, be another fun new spot from which to explore a pretty stretch of the river.

Scott Smith suggests the small park on Riverside Avenue as another kayak launch site.

Excuse the rant. But once you’ve enjoyed the views and sport of Westport from the water’s edge, you want more.

And I don’t see why taxpaying town residents should have to wait 3 years to have reasonable access to it.

I asked Westport’s Parks and Recreation Department for a comment. They replied:

As the kayak facility is a popular and relatively inexpensive activity, demand exceeds supply. Therefore, there’s a wait list. It ranges between 1 and 3 years, depending on activity and turnover rate. Last year, 57 kayak positions turned over.

Short of building more racks (which we did about 8 years ago), the trend will continue with a 1 to 3-year wait. We currently have 58 on the wait list for the 192 kayak positions at Compo and 30 at Longshore.

Parks and Recreation Commission chair Charlie Haberstroh added:

We are putting together a site plan for Longshore, and will look to add kayak spaces there. We can also see if there is a more efficient way to design and stack kayaks at Compo.

I believe that we understand the problem. Unfortunately there is not a solution for this summer. In a way it is a good problem: more demand than supply. We will get on it.

(Has Scott Smith’s story got you intrigued about kayaks? You can rent them at Longshore Sailing School, and Downunder on Riverside Avenue.)

14 responses to “Failure To Launch

  1. Short of building new racks? Why the hell don’t you build new racks, Charlie? They are cheap and quick to build and you could use the $900,000 bathroom during construction.

    • Sharon Paulsen

      Your comment made me laugh out loud … whether u meant to be humorous or not. 😉

    • Thanks, Dan, for reaching out to the Town on this issue. Classic response! 1) Acknowledge years’ long problem; 2) Admit easy, low-cost solution exists; 3) Decline to address said problem (“We will get on it”). I wonder how long it would take a local builder or Eagle Scout candidate to construct more racks with some 2 x 4s, wood screws, and a saw? In the meantime, I’ve ordered an inflatable SUP. It will cut down on my fishing, but should be fun…

    • Bill Boyd, Staples '66

      Increasing kayak storage is such an easily attained goal….let’s hope it is accomplished SOON…not maybe in a year or two.

  2. Roberta Tager

    Keep up your great work! You are appreciated!

    Sent from my iPhone


  3. David Weiss

    Thank You ! I have been on the list for two years and as of early April i was told I am number 143. Does this mean that i’m on the waiting list for the waiting list ? Great idea for the lower lot at longshore, plenty of parking and perfect location for a launch.

  4. Michael Calise

    It’s clear the rec commission has forgotten the use factor of Compo as they turn it into a city park.

  5. Caryl Beatus


  6. Joshua Stein

    Agree. Its just a few pieces of wood. It makes sense to add if there is such a demand. On a side note: Kayakers, please respect the water ways!! Carry proper safety equipment (life jackets, vhf/waterproof cellphone, etc), make yourselves visible (day and night), do not kayak in channels where powerboats are with your headphones on not paying attention, and please do understand larger boats are typically restricted to navigating in
    channels or they will run aground (please do not block channels, hang out under bridges, etc). Finally, please do not kayak in unsafe conditions (i.e. when wind/currents are strong) as I dont want to have to rescue any more kayakers that get “sucked out” into the Long Island Sound and can’t paddle back. Thank you.

  7. Juliana Fulbright

    There seem to be many open spots, the lady at the Rec dept told me last year it was a two year wait. I don’t think so but try putting your kayak in a rack and see what happens, probably nothing!

  8. William Weiss

    Agreed and thanks for the “rant”. I am new to the area and an avid rower with a 15′ Adirondack Guideboat. Is there a map or list of public ramps – specifically, the Mill Pond area you mention in this piece? Thanks…

    • Sherry Jagerson

      The Sherwood. Mill Pond has a Kayak Launch site designated by a small blue sign on the right as you drive into the gravel driveway entrance.

      Anyone is welcome to park and launch there. Enjoy the bird life. View the two signs, historical and aquatic life. Enjoy the oyster boatshave a visit with a friend but also salability it really just not not just for kayaks but it’s for any small craft motorize craft out there or oyster beds a great experience how do you recommend you won’t get a ticket if you have a kayak permit

      • Sherry Jagerson

        Kayak launch sign.
        Mill pond.

        Mill Pond has a Kayak Launch site designated by a small blue sign on the right as you drive into the gravel driveway.

        Anyone is welcome to park in the lot with a kayak permit from P&R.

        Other permitted parking there is for visiting the trail.

        Also, there are two lovely signs. One is a historical sign the other is a large detailed, aquatic sign.
        Both signs are written, illustrated and researched by noted, local creative people.

        Enjoy the bird life. View the two signs, historical and aquatic life. Enjoy watching the small oyster boats.

        how do you recommend you won’t get a ticket if you have a kayak permit?

        Very carefully:
        The kayak permit should be left in the front windshield of your car. I would also keep a large laminated note card in your car saying that you are out paddling or on the trail. Police don’t beat the High Tide Bushes to see whose there. Maybe Longshore or Down-under has a kayaking sticker of some sort. But a simple laminated index card works fine. The police do monitor the lot. And, they do a good job sorting through a difficult parking situation. Mostly, be patient and be kind. We’re all trying.

  9. Nancie Rinaldi

    This is a subject near and dear to my heart. A number of years ago (maybe 4-5) I put my name down and got a rack either that year or the next. A couple years later our neighbors put their name on the list and received a rack the next year (point being it was a fairly short wait).

    We thoroughly enjoyed kayaking and the convenience of our Compo rack. Last year, and this is MY BAD, I turned up to pay my yearly fee but I’d missed the deadline and lost our rack. Our name went to the bottom of the list. I called earlier this year and was told we were #98 on the list and it could take a 2-3 years to get another rack – increased interest in kayaking as well as paddle boarding was increasing demand. My first thought was, with all the empty space at Compo couldn’t they build additional racks? I’d planned to attend the last Parks & Recs meeting at Town Hall to bring up the subject but at the last minute couldn’t make it.

    What is the best way to go about requesting the town invest in new racks? Clearly there is a demand.

    Btw, I’m completely confused as to how long the wait list actually is. Seems to be conflicting information.