CT awards $7.5 million to preserve open spaces, including sites in Wilton and Redding

Photo of J.D. Freda

The state is focusing on purchasing and protecting more than 1,000 acres of open space through 15 projects in Connecticut communities, including Wilton, Redding and Weston.

Gov. Ned Lamont recently announced $7.5 million would go towards the preservation efforts, as well as several community gardens. The money comes from the state’s Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Grant Program and the Urban Green and Community Gardens Grant Program. They’re administered by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

Included in that $7.5 million state total will be an undeveloped 99-acre parcel to expand Devil’s Den Preserve in Redding and nearly 10 acres in Wilton to help create a 700-plus acre contiguous forest in Weston and Wilton.

A grant totaling just over $1.1 million will go to The Nature Conservancy to acquire the 99.1-acre plot on the Granskog Property, which be added to Devil’s Den Preserve, a property that begins just east of the Georgetown section of Wilton.

“As the climate changes, we must work to protect the landscapes that provide refuge for plants and animals adapting to a warmer world,” said Frogard Ryan, state director for The Nature Conservancy in Connecticut. “We are excited to work with the State of Connecticut to expand Devil's Den Preserve, the largest expanse of protected land in Fairfield County and our most frequently visited preserve, to help keep our promise to protect the lands and waters on which all life depends.”

The Nature Conservancy anticipates a 12- to 18- month window to finalize the purchase and acquire the land officially.

This is the last “large undeveloped parcel adjacent to Devil's Den Preserve,” according to state Sen. Will Haskell, and it currently has more than 20 miles of trails for residents to explore. In addition, its acquisition will preserve forest and freshwater resources and “protect more than 500 types of trees and 140 species of birds.”

Half of the acreage is within the Saugatuck Reservoir's public drinking water supply boundaries.

Another grant, totaling more than $398,000, is included to help the Aspetuck Land Trust acquire 9.84 acres of the Montanaro Property in Wilton. The property consists of two lots and is part of a long-term project by the land trust to create a 700-plus acre contiguous forest known as the Weston-Wilton Forest Block, Haskell said.

Aspetuck Executive Director David Brant called the plot of land a private “donut hole” inholding in the middle of the 705-acre intact forest block the Aspetuck Land Trust is protecting.

“We’ve been working for 12 years to conserve this property and its protection ensures the preservation of the last developable parcel inside the forest reserve,” said Brant. “The last frontier of undeveloped open space in our region.”

The grant is also expected to provide recreational opportunities by creating trails for residents to traverse and to address local ecosystems, wildlife and clean water.

Haskell said he was “thrilled” to see the funds being allocated for the conservation initiative.

“Sometimes we vote on these big budgets and it’s hard to really understand how they materialize into tangible changes for our community, how they actually change the lives of the people who live in the 26th District,” Haskell said. “But here we have an example of a series of state budgets that I’ve been proud to support to put historic resources into making our communities beautiful and conserving our natural resources.”

He noted that making these natural spaces accessible to the public through trails, preserving their natural beauty and making sure they are not developed so future generations can enjoy them too is part of what makes Connecticut so special.

Lamont said in his release announcing the grants that the state’s preservation of open space has “helped define its landscape and preserve its important natural resources and natural beauty and is one of the main things that makes this state such a great place to call home.”

Haskell said he always asks the new families he meets who moved to Connectict what drew them to the state and community. While some mention the excellent school districts, or proximity to New York City, he said many have been “drawn by the beauty of the outdoors.”

“They were drawn by the ability to take a hike on the Norwalk River Valley Trail, the ability to walk along the beach at Sherwood Island State Park,” Haskell said, contextualzing why he believes these grants are so important. “People, I think, appreciate when their government looks out for their kids’ and grandkids’ ability to breathe clean air and drink clean water and I think that’s a part of Connecticut’s current success.”

Other projects included are in Bozrah, Montville, East Haddam, East Hampton, Portland, Killingworth, Madison, Oxford, Salisbury, Sharon, Southbury, Stamford, Wallingford, Willington, Winchester, Groton, Killingly, New Haven, Waterbury and Windham.