Next month New London plays host to the biggest event in Connecticut this year: OpSail 2012.
The tall ships festival, part of a national 200th Anniversary commemoration for the War of 1812, makes a final stop of its multi-city tour here July 6-9.
OpSail organizers have overcome significant hurdles to bring the festival to our shores. The prolonged recession hampered fundraising efforts. The State of Connecticut capped its contribution to a maximum of $500,000 based on a 50 percent match of other donations. Newport, R.I., complicated matters further by scheduling its own tall ships festival the same weekend, creating a competition to attract vessels.
Despite the adversity, OpSail organizers, as well as many local businesses, town governments and dedicated individuals, rallied to the cause. The New London event will attract at least 24 ships and will draw crowds of several hundred thousand people.
This impressive achievement speaks volumes about the pride, grit and spirit of the people, the governments, and the businesses of southeastern Connecticut. A successful OpSail 2012 is a celebratory moment for the entire region to savor.
Thirty-five key community businesses, including this newspaper, have embraced OpSail with sponsorships. The town of East Lyme is hosting the tall ships and serving as a staging area the night before the July 7 parade up the Thames River.
Waterford Police Chief Murray "Bud" Pendleton has volunteered his time to coordinate transportation with the trains, bus and ferry schedules. Waterford also is sending a contingent of police officers to help patrol the fireworks festival on Saturday, July 7.
The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation deserves special recognition for its sponsorship effort. The recession has battered the fortunes of both locally-owned Indian gaming casinos. The Mashantucket suffered financially when their Foxwoods enterprise curtailed stipends to tribal members. Despite those hardships, the tribe found a way to underwrite the annual fireworks display for the 20th consecutive year.
New London Main Street soldiers on despite a 50 percent reduction in its funding from the city. The diminished staff of Main Street put out the call seeking last week seeking volunteers to assist with OpSail events. An organizational meeting is planned for Saturday at 8:30 at the Port N Starboard restaurant at Ocean Beach.
Times are tough. Municipal budgets are threadbare. Five years of recession have exhausted us.
And yet, when an opportunity like OpSail 2012 presents itself, the people and organizations of our area find a way. Collaboratively, we achieve something far greater than any single individual or institution could achieve on its own.
That is the larger lesson that OpSail 2012 teaches.