Nature center hopeful it will be able to buy Coogan Farm

Mystic - With just four months to go until its option to buy 34 acres of the Coogan Farm expires, Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center Executive Director Maggie Jones said she and supporters of the effort are optimistic they will have the money in hand by then to make the purchase.

The center has so far raised $1.6 million of the $2.8 million it needs, almost all of which has come from private donations, including one $500,000 gift.

She said the center hopes to have raised $2 million by the end of the year and the remainder in the few months after that.

The center is also approaching foundations and businesses for donations as well as the hotels that border the property because its hiking trails and scenic vistas would be an amenity for hotel guests.

The center also is awaiting word on what could be a substantial grant from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

"We have 60 volunteers working hard to make this happen. Everyone is positive about how this is coming together," she said.

Jones said she is still hopeful the town of Stonington will make a donation toward the purchase. Earlier this year, town officials rejected a request from the nature center and the Trust for Public Land to ask voters to approve $1.5 million in bonding toward the purchase and improvements, which would total $3.5 million.

If, come March, the center is short of the money it needs, Jones said, it could try to negotiate an extension with the Clara C. Coogan Trust or obtain a bridge loan.

"But hopefully, we won't have to do that," she said.

Jones has stressed that the purchase will not only preserve an important part of Mystic for residents but also help maintain the atmosphere that draws tourists to town.

"This will have a positive impact on the Mystic economy instead of covering the hillside with commercial development and homes and turning it into Anywhere USA and losing the charm of Mystic. This is what sets Mystic apart from other places," she said.

She added the property provide a "great opportunity for people to connect with nature," calling it a "Haley Farm East," a reference to the state park in Groton.

The developer of a proposed 245-unit assisted living project on another section of the farm has donated another 11 acres of space to the nature center to add to 34 acres it wants to buy. The Coogan Farm property links to other large tracts of open space.

The nature center is continuing to offer tours of the property at 9 a.m. on Tuesdays, at 4 p.m. on Sundays and by appointment.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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