Published February 22. 2014 4:00AM
While running with my old pal Johnny Kelley of Mystic years ago we loped toward Ledyard, where pavement gave way to gravel.
Soon we passed an expansive bog that bordered a dense forest, which gradually opened up into rolling pastures with grazing horses.
A man on a tractor waved as we approached.
Throughout New England you could not accompany Kell, the gone but never-forgotten 1957 Boston Marathon champ and two-time Olympian, without someone shouting a greeting.
"Hi, Art!" Johnny replied, barely breaking stride, and off we went into the hills.
This was Art Weber, who lived with his wife, Judy, on a 298-acre farm on Lambtown Road Extension that straddles Groton and Ledyard.
The narrow dirt byway that passed through their farm became one of my favorite running and biking routes, and I eventually came to know Art and Judy. Art, in fact, had been a city editor at The Day, but in his heart he was a farmer, and every spring he dug up and balled a couple dozen pines and hemlocks from areas he was clearing, which I then hauled back to my house and transplanted. Today these trees are nearly 50 feet tall.
Art died a number of years ago, but Judy, whose father, Latham Avery, bought the property in 1929, still lives in the Colonial-era farmhouse, thanks to an arrangement she made late last year with the Groton Open Space Association. She is donating 146 acres in Groton to the land preservation group, and selling the Ledyard portion to GOSA, guaranteeing that the entire, magnificent parcel will remain undeveloped.
This is wonderful news, especially since the property is adjacent to another recent GOSA acquisition, the 91-acre Candlewood Ridge preserve, which has outstanding trails for hiking and cross-country skiing. Both properties contain streams, pools, mature oak and beech forests and mountain laurel, and are home to hundreds of species of birds, turtles, amphibians and other woodland creatures.
Dr. Robert Askins, Katherine Blunt Professor of Biology at Connecticut College, calls the Avery Farm "one of the most biologically diverse and valuable sites for conservation in eastern Connecticut."
The town of Ledyard, which maintains Lambtown Road Extension, has for the past two years closed it to cars during winter to help prevent erosion and unintentional widening by snow plows. This measure, incidentally, also saved about $2,500 in road repairs.
Last week officials announced a better idea: Keep the gate at the north end of Lambtown Road Extension closed to traffic year-round. Hikers, bicyclists and runners, of course, would still be allowed through.
The southern end has its own gate that emergency vehicles and Judy Weber can use, but, as Ledyard Mayor John Rodolico noted, there is "no valid reason" for other cars to use that road.
Amen, and well said.
Ledyard's Planning and Zoning Commission must first hold a public hearing, but Mayor Rodolico hopes the proposal is adopted next month.
I don't recall many other instances in which a town closed a public road to cars, and hope it inspires others to follow suit. Though we live in comparatively rural southeastern Connecticut, there's still way too much asphalt and concrete. Many mistakenly view new roads as "progress," as evidenced by elaborate ribbon-cutting ceremonies whenever one opens.
Maybe Ledyard and the open space association should conduct a symbolic ribbon-tying to celebrate the closing of Lambtown Road Extension.
GOSA, which has helped preserve thousands of acres throughout the region, including such treasures as Bluff Point and Haley Farm, now is seeking state grants and raising money to complete the purchase of the Avery Farm. One generous contributor has kicked in $25,000 to match donations made by March 31.
Tax-deductible donations can be made to the Groton Open Space Association, Inc., P.O. Box 9187, Groton, CT 06340-9187, or through the website gosaonline.org.
GOSA also is offering tours of the Avery Farm property at 2 p.m. every Sunday in February and March.
Just remember, if you arrive by car, you can't drive through Lambtown Road Extension.