Like all staffed attractions in the state in 2020, Connecticut River Expeditions needed to figure out a way to return to work safety within state guidelines — for staff and visitors.
When that time came recently, after a five-month shutdown, the Aug. 28 return cruise sold out in less than an hour, says Manager Cathy Malin.
Led by Capt. Mark Yuknat and his naturalist wife Mindy Hill Yuknat, the company is well-known for its eagle tours from the Connecticut River Museum in February and March, when 2020’s run came to an abrupt end with the growing pandemic.
Operating the RiverQuest and Adventure boats, the company typically does osprey cruises in the spring, along with other themed and daily cruises in summer.
In its return, CRE is offering three-hour tree swallow cruises ($50) and 90-minute daytime cruises (sold out through Sept. 11, $30) along with also-lengthy sunset cruises ($50) departing from Eagle Landing State Park near the East Haddam swing bridge and heading south to a somewhat-secret location for a stunning view of the sunset.
“Part of the fun of that one is it takes a while to get down there from Haddam, to the special spot, so the ride down is great sightseeing. We see lots of different birds, ones that are getting ready to migrate or ones that are migrating through. We usually see quite a few eagles on the way down.”
The sunset on the river is a “wonderful phenomenon” leading to a quiet ride back in near-darkness that can be chilly (bring a jacket), said Malin, who is also a naturalist.
One reason for the sellouts is that capacity is currently capped at 22 people, Malin said. “It’s a reduced capacity and a reduced schedule. Normally we’d be doing this every single night with two boats; now we’re doing it with one boat.”
Masks are required except while eating or drinking. Patrons can bring their own food or drink in a small cooler if it fits under the seat, Malin said.
Asked about the Connecticut River being a long but underutilized river in terms of restaurant views, kayak rentals or swimming spots, Malin said, “I think the trickiest part of kayaking the Connecticut River is that it’s a tidal river. And the tide goes all the way to just past Hartford, so when you’re talking about a river that’s flowing and it’s tidal, you have, where we are, a 31/2-foot tide.”
Malin said river uers are “so lucky to have The Nature Conservancy, the (Lower Connecticut River) Land Trust, the National Wildife Refuge system. They’ve conserved so much land along the river,” she said, “that it’s just such a special place. A lot of people don’t realize that we have this in our back yard.”
The river wasn’t always a joy to look at or observe. “If you went back to the Sixties or early Seventies, it was digusting. There was sewage being pumped into it... And it wasn’t until 1973 when they passed the Clean Water Act that people had a foot to stand on to get all that to stop.”
Saturday daytime cruises will return in October, Malin said.
Connecticut River Expeditions, Eagle Landing State Park, 1 Marine Park, Route 82, Haddam, 860-662-0577, CTRiverQuest.com.