Projects in several Fairfield County municipalities are among the recipients of nearly $7 million in state funding to preserve nearly 3,000 acres of land and to enhance urban green spaces.
Gov. Ned Lamont announced that his administration is awarding $6.2 million in funding to protect and preserve open space lands across the state, including $5.5 million to support 29 grants toward the purchase of the aforementioned land, along with an additional five grants totaling more than $700,000 for distressed communities to promote the use of open space in urban settings.
The grants are authorized under the state’s Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Program and the Urban Green and Community Garden Program, which are administered by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) and assist local governments, land trusts, and water companies in purchasing land to protect as open space.
Those open spaces “have tremendous value for the state by protecting wildlife habitat, offering recreation opportunities, and protecting ecosystems that are sequestering carbon,” according to the state government.
“Our administration has set high goals to mitigate the effects of climate change and implement policies that better preserve our air, water, and natural resources,” Lamont said. “This program is an important component of preserving some of the best and most beautiful land in the world, and by partnering with our municipalities and nonprofits we can ensure that these valuable resources are preserved in perpetuity for generations to come.”
“Open space is key to ensuring a bright economic future for our state,” DEEP Commissioner Katie Dykes said. “These natural assets are valuable as we attract and retain residents who are increasingly looking for varied recreational opportunities where they work, play, and live. We need continued cooperation of land trusts, our towns and cities, and conservation-minded citizens to build upon existing and form new partnerships and new approaches to protecting open space.”
The latest projects bring the total land in Connecticut designated as state or local open space to more than 512,000 acres – approximately more than three quarters of the way toward the state’s goal of having 673,210 acres designated as open space.
The grants include:
Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Grants
Project Name: 18 South Park Ave., Easton, CT
Sponsor: Aspetuck Land Trust
Total Area: 18.7 acres
Description: The Aspetuck Land Trust seeks to acquire 18.7 acres of land along with Mill River in Easton to be incorporated into the Warner Angler Preserve which would more than quadruple its current area. The property has 3,300 linear feet of riverine bank and the opposing riverbank is dedicated Town of Easton Open Space. The acquisition of the parcel would allow the public access for fishing, hiking, and wildlife viewing. This section of the Mill River, which sits below Easton Reservoir is classified as a Class 1 Wild Trout Management Area and supports populations of wild Brook Trout and wild Brown Trout. An NDDB (DEEP’s Natural Diversity Data Base) letter dated June 19, 2020 shows the Eastern box turtle, Wood turtle and Sharp-shinned hawk to be known species in the area.
Project Name: Converse Brook Preserve
Sponsor: Town of Greenwich and Greenwich Land Trust
Total Area: 72.3 acres
Description: This project is a collaborative effort to acquire 72 acres of Class III land from the Aquarion Water Company. The property is wooded with wetlands throughout and is part of a larger 800-acre open space corridor that includes the Greenwich Land Trust’s 52-acre Westfall Preserve, 297-acre town-owned Babcock Preserve and 453-acres of Aquarion Water Company properties. This area of protected land is adjacent to the Mianus River Greenway. The property contains a cold-water stream, Converse Pond Brook which runs down the western side of the property. Wetlands, small streams, and vernal pools make up a wetland system surrounding the brook. The property is less than a mile from Putnam Lake Reservoir. An NDDB review found that a known hibernaculum for Northern Long-eared Bat and other bat species is located within ¼ mile of the project. An existing horse trail system will be improved and expanded to allow for public access to the property.
Project Name: Bear Mountain Open Space
Sponsor: Ridgefield Conservation Commission
Total Area: 13.8 acres
Description: The acquisition of this parcel will connect a 3-acre parcel of town owned open space to the 386-acre Hemlock Hills open space preserve. It will also help the town of Ridgefield reach its goal of protecting 30% of the town’s land mass as protected open space. The property is mostly wooded and contains native tree and shrub species including American beech, black birch, hickory, blueberry, and mountain laurel. It is part of the Still River Watershed. The property predominantly consists of a steeper forested slope that drains into Miry Brook. The public will be able to access the property through a proposed trail that ascends and runs along the northern peak of Bear Mountain affording views of Danbury and northern Fairfield County.
Project Name: Fratelli Zeta Acquisition
Sponsor: Aspetuck Land Trust
Total Area: 11.5 acres
Description: This property is part of the Aspetuck Land Trust’s project to create a 705-acre contiguous forest known as the Weston/Wilton Forest Block. The ALT will create a recreational trail system through the properties with the central trailhead at the Fromson Strassler property which they are acquiring with assistance from a 2020 Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition (OSWA) grant. The forest block will be connected to the Norwalk River Valley Trail at the Cannondale Station in Wilton. Hiking trails in the forest block will also be linked to Huntington State Park in Redding via Georgetown Road. There are intermittent watercourse and seepage wetlands on the property that contribute to the headwaters of the West Branch of the Saugatuck River. The intermittent stream channel and bordering vegetated wetlands provide habitat for amphibians.
Urban Green and Community Garden Grants
Project Name: Open Air Pavilion
Location: 151 Brookdale Road, Stamford
Sponsor: Bartlett Arboretum Association Inc. & City of Stamford
Description: This grant will contribute to the construction of a 2,400 square foot open air pavilion at the Bartlett Arboretum and Gardens to be located adjacent to the Silver Educational Center. The pavilion will be open to the public and will be accessible to educational groups like the Boys/Girls Scouts, the UConn Master Gardeners program, and other community groups. Guests will have access to the pavilion during the Arboretum’s summer concert series, and community festivals. The City of Stamford owns the project site and the Bartlett Arboretum Association is responsible for managerial and operations oversite through a lease agreement with the city. The Bartlett Arboretum and Gardens is accessible to the public free of charge. The pavilion will have ADA accessible ramps leading to the main platform from both the main road and the Silver Educational Facility that provides access to restroom facilities. Picnic tables for the pavilion have been designed to accommodate wheelchair access.
DEEP’s 2021 grant rounds for both of the grant programs are now underway, with applications due by September 30. The programs use funding from the Community Investment Act and state bond funds and require matches by the grant recipient and stipulations that the land be protected by a conservation and public recreation easement, ensuring that the property is forever protected for public use and enjoyment.
Projects are evaluated by statutorily defined parameters and ranked, according to natural resource and recreational value, and natural area resiliency and adaptation to mitigate climate change.
Updated applications for the 2021 grant round are available on DEEP’s Open Space website.