UPDATE from the Shoreline Times:
The Trust for Public Land recently announced an agreement with River Sound Development, LLC to purchase the 1,000 acre tract of uninterrupted coastal forest known as The Preserve.
River Sound tried unsuccessfully over the past 15 years to develop the property. Plans ranged in scope from the original proposal of more than 200 homes and a golf course, to smaller “pod” developments with the carrot of town ball fields added to the mix. All proposals met with strong opposition and lawsuits from environmental groups and local residents.
The Connecticut Fund for the Environment and environmentalists across the state and region are celebrating an announcement from the Trust for Public Land and the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CT DEEP) that an agreement has been reached with River Sound Development LLC to purchase the 1,000-acre property known as “The Preserve” for conservation, recreation, and habitat protection. CFE has been involved in efforts to permanently protect the land for more than a decade.
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“This is a momentous development in protecting Connecticut’s open space,” said Roger Reynolds, legal director and director of land protection programs for CFE. “This agreement finally gives Connecticut the opportunity to conserve one of the last major unprotected coastal wetland and coastal forest complexes between New York City and Boston.”
“The Preserve has 114 acres of wetlands, is home to rare wildlife and plants, and drains to aquifers and the Sound. With its location near town parkland and trails, there are also great opportunities here for recreation that will let visitors connect with the kind of landscape that overdevelopment has made all too rare on Connecticut’s shoreline. Keeping this land open is therefore a win for natural resources and for people. We are pleased to have been able to protect the Preserve thus far and are ready to work with DEEP, the Trust for Public Land, and other partners to help this conservation sale succeed,” Reynolds said.
The Preserve is composed of 934 acres spanning Old Saybrook, Essex and Westbrook. The parcel is Old Saybrook’s last significant undeveloped area and a key natural resource for the lower Connecticut River Valley. It drains to three watersheds which flow into Long Island Sound, and is home to six state-listed species of special concern, including the Eastern Box Turtle, Eastern Ribbon Snake, and Eastern Prickly Pear.
Efforts by various entities to develop the proposal began in 1998 and have included proposals for an 18-hole golf course and luxury homes. CFE has opposed such proposals and advocated for a conservation purchase since 2003.
Now that an agreement has been reached with River Sound, the Trust for Public Land will lead a year-long campaign with CFE and other partners to raise the approximately $10 million needed to acquire the property and pay for stewardship and other costs.
CFE Special Projects Coordinator Chris Cryder, a resident of Old Saybrook, has worked with area grassroots activists for years to protect the land. “From the very beginning, there’s been a strong group of local residents who understand the value of this land and are passionate about saving it,” Cryder said. “We’re looking forward to continuing our work together to get this over this finish line and protect the Preserve once and for all.”
The Trust for Public Land announced today that it has reached an agreement with River Sound Development, LLC, to purchase 1,000 acres known as The Preserve—the last large unprotected coastal forest between New York City and Boston—for conservation, recreation, and habitat protection. If the acquisition is successful, the land will be permanently protected from future development and open to the public to enjoy for passive recreational activities such as hiking and wildlife viewing. The property, which is rich in natural resources and wildlife, will connect to 500 acres of existing town parkland and miles of existing hiking trails.
Alicia Betty, The Trust for Public Land’s Connecticut State Director, said her organization is moving forward with the acquisition and fundraising efforts to raise $10 – $11 million in public and private funds by June, 2014, in order to acquire the property and cover stewardship and costs.
“We are thrilled to be able to present this opportunity to the state of Connecticut’s land conservation community,” Betty said. “We’ve been able to end 15 years of uncertainty and can now move forward toward protecting this valuable property of regional significance.”
“The work of the Trust for Public Land to secure rights to The Preserve represents a major milestone in our efforts to preserve critical lands in this state,” said Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy. “We look forward to partnering with the Trust for Public Land and others to make this purchase a reality and protect this property for the future.”
Located in Old Saybrook, Essex and Westbrook, CT, The Preserve includes 38 vernal pools and 114 acres of wetlands and more than 3,100 linear feet of watercourses. The dense canopy of forest and the Pequot Swamp Pond act as a refueling stop for many migratory birds, and the many freshwater seeps on the property are home to amphibian species such as the northern dusky salamander, spotted turtles, and box turtles. Bobcats and fisher cats have also been spotted on the property.
In addition to its recreational and habitat resources, The Preserve provides important water quality benefits to residents. Surface waters on the property drain to 3 different watersheds: the Oyster River, Mud River and Trout Brook, as they make their way to Long Island Sound. The protection of The Preserve will ensure that stormwater on the site is recharged to local aquifers. An aquifer protection area is located just east of the Preserve and supplies an average of 200,000 gallons per day of drinking water to Old Saybrook and surrounding communities.
The Preserve is located in the area designated by FEMA’s Hurricane Sandy Impact Analysis as having experienced “high impact” from the Superstorm Sandy. Coastal forests like The Preserve have been losing ground for some time as saltwater gradually moves inland as a result of rising tides and sea levels. The Preserve acts act as a sponge for stormwater, releasing it slowly into the tributaries and rivers that lead to the Connecticut River and Long Island Sound, protecting downstream property owners from flooding.
“This is an immensely positive development, and I commend The Trust for Public Land for their leadership in preserving and protecting this priceless natural resource. As Attorney General, I was proud to fight on behalf of hundreds of Old Saybrook residents and environmental advocates seeking to protect The Preserve from ecologically devastating development. Once lost, forests and habitats such as The Preserve can never be recovered. This is a great day for Old Saybrook, Long Island Sound and Connecticut’s environment,” said U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal.
“This property is the last of its kind–an intact thousand acre maritime forest, the source waters of three separate watersheds,” said Philip Miller, Representative for the 36th district. “It is said that water will be to the twenty-first century what oil was to the twentieth. This will help assure a bright future for this region of Connecticut.”
The Preserve was the subject of development proposals dating back to 1998, including plans to build more than 200 homes and an 18-hole golf course. These plans met with strong opposition and lawsuits from conservation groups and residents. Over the years, multiple attempts were made to acquire the land for conservation, but an agreement was never reached and efforts to develop the property continued.
“Old Saybrook looks forward to working with The Trust for Public Land towards a successful closing on this property, a closing that economically and environmentally favors The Town of Old Saybrook and the region,” said Carl Fortuna, Old Saybrook First Selectman. “This property has been at the center of attention, good and bad, for 20 years. It is now time for a resolution. We are optimistic that enough private and public funds can be raised to purchase the property and preserve the Preserve in its natural state. The Town will work cooperatively with all parties in this effort, including the DEEP. Most importantly, I will work for and listen to Old Saybrook’s residents as they decide the future of this parcel.”
Many entities and conservation organizations have come together over the years to defend this natural asset for Connecticut and to create this opportunity. The collaboration will continue and will be essential to a successful outcome next year. These entities include: the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CT DEEP), the Towns of Old Saybrook, Essex, and Westbrook, the Old Saybrook Land Trust, the Essex Land Trust, The Connecticut Fund for the Environment / Save the Sound, The Alliance for Sound Area Planning, Audubon Connecticut, and The Nature Conservancy.
Suellen McCuin, a resident of Essex, neighbor of the Preserve and member of the Alliance for Sound Area Planning, stated, “I am so happy to know that this incredible piece of nature will now be forever available for our family, others in the community and future generations to hike, explore and seek solace. It is also great news that so many will continue to benefit from the now protected pristine waters that fill our local public and private wells. We are inextricably linked to this forest. As Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, ‘Forests are the lungs of our land.'”
Founded in 1972, The Trust for Public Land is the leading nonprofit working to conserve land for people. Operating from more than 30 offices nationwide, The Trust for Public Land has protected more than three million acres from the inner city to the wilderness and helped generate more than $34 billion in public funds for conservation. Nearly ten million people live within a ten-minute walk of a Trust for Public Land park, garden, or natural area, and millions more visit these sites every year.
The Nature Conservancy has also applauded the move:
The Nature Conservancy Praises Trust for Public Land Agreement to Protect 1,000 Acres
The purchase of the land known as “The Preserve” would be a major success for conservation.
The Nature Conservancy today praised the Trust for Public Land (TPL) for the announcement of an agreement to protect the 1,000-acre parcel known as The Preserve, and expressed its appreciation to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), and the Town of Old Saybrook for their support of the project.
“This property has been one of the most well-known tracts of land in the state for more than a decade — and with good reason” said Frograd Ryan, state director of The Nature Conservancy in Connecticut. “There are very few unprotected parcels of forest land this large remaining anywhere in Connecticut, and particularly in our coastal towns.”
The vast majority of the parcel is in Old Saybrook, but it is also comprised of smaller holdings in Essex and Westbrook. Along with other undeveloped properties, the parcel is part of a minimally fragmented forest area of several thousand acres. Such large, unbroken forests are essential for many species of migratory songbirds and other species. The parcel contains critical wetlands habitat and the headwaters of three different coastal river watersheds.
“There are important open space projects happening every month in communities all over Connecticut, but there are only one or two properties each decade that will be known statewide for years to come” Ryan said. “East Lyme’s Rocky Neck in the 1930s, Stratford Great Meadows in the 1990s, Trout Brook Valley and the lands that became Centennial Watershed State Forest in the 2000s are among those. This announcement holds great promise that The Preserve will be a signature acquisition of the 2010s.”
Much hard work remains to complete appraisals and the many details of a large conservation project, and to raise the necessary public and private funds. “We look forward to putting our full weight behind the lead partners in bringing this crucial conservation project to fruition,” Ryan said.
And from The Day:
The head of The Nature Conservancy’s Connecticut office highlighted The Preserve’s significance along the state’s shoreline.
“There are very few unprotected parcels of forest land this large remaining anywhere in Connecticut, and particularly in our coastal towns,” said Frogard Ryan, state director for the conservancy.
Officials at River Sound Development could not be reached for comment.
For more on this story, visit: The Day – Deal struck to preserve 1,000-acre wood | News from southeastern Connecticut.