Lyme - Over the past three weeks, Don Gerber, Templeton Brown and other Lyme Land Conservation Trust volunteers have been spending many hours in the rocky woodlands off Sterling Hill Road, preparing the trust's newest acquisition for Oct. 15.
That's when the 40-acre Chestnut Hill Preserve will officially open with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and two group hikes over the trail that's been newly cleared and marked by the volunteers. It passes a small waterfall on Falls Brook then continues through a mixed hardwood forest and into uplands crisscrossed by stone walls left from the days when sheep pastured there.
"This filled in a hole in our conservation lands, so it was particularly important for us," Gerber, chairman of the trust's Stewardship Committee, said Friday, before leading a hike along the trail he and other volunteers recently finished clearing and marking. "It was recognized as a missing piece."
The parcel, which brings the amount of land preserved by the trust to more than 2,800 acres, abuts land along Sterling City Road that the trust has conserved with easements, and the 1,667-acre Nehantic State Forest. The trail through the preserve connects with one in the state forest, although details of agreement between the state and the trust remain to be finalized, Gerber said.
"But that's what sold the state, that there would be a connection with the trail system for the public," he added. State grants covered about half of the $280,000 cost of the purchase, and donations from the HJ Promise Foundation and private individuals covered the rest. The land was purchased from the Talcott family, which subdivided four housing lots along Sterling Hill Road from the original parcel. One of the four has been sold.
"We do recognize that development is a necessary part of life in Lyme," Brown said.
Gerber said the variety of natural features in the preserve will offer good opportunities for educational programs about wetlands, glaciers, ledges, early successional habitats and the types of trees that grow at different elevations.
Anthony Irving, chairman of the Eightmile River Wild & Scenic Study Committee, said Chestnut Hill Preserve is an important acquisition both for the land trust's and the town's preservation goals, as well as for the Eightmile River watershed. Falls Brook and other waterways on the parcel flow into the Eightmile, which joined the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System in 2008. The Eightmile watershed covers about 40,000 acres in Lyme, Salem and East Haddam, roughly a third of which is preserved. The watershed committee's long-term goal is for half of the watershed to be preserved, Irving said.
Adding a parcel that is contiguous to other preserved properties has added value, he noted, because it increases the value of the entire area as a wildlife corridor.
"It's obviously a great piece," he said.
If you go:
What: Ribbon-cutting ceremony and two guided hikes
Where: Chestnut Hill Preserve, Sterling Hill Road, Lyme
When: 10 a.m., Saturday, Oct. 15
Details: Short hike of about a half-mile will take walkers to a small waterfall on Falls Brook. Longer walk will take about an hour, covering more difficult terrain. It will loop through the Nehantic State Forest before returning to the preserve entrance.
Added feature: Local resident Carolyn Bacdayan will give a brief overview of the history of the area and share memories of growing up there.
Things to note: No dogs allowed.
Information: visit: http://lymelandtrust.org.