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Mystic -The Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center received its Christmas present a few days late.
Even so, it was greatly appreciated because without it, the nonprofit organization might have been unable to buy and preserve a 34-acre section of the Coogan Farm property before its purchase option runs out in March.
On Friday, when Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced that the state was awarding more than $9 million in Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition grants to 35 organizations, the nature center learned it would receive $500,000, among the largest grants the state was awarding.
"This is a keystone donation for us. Had we not received a substantial amount we would have had to re-evaluate our strategy," nature center Executive Director Maggie Jones said Sunday. "This is a big deal for us. We're happy the money came through."
She said the nature center has now raised $2.3 million of the $2.8 million it needs to buy the property from the Clara C. Coogan Trust. The nature center had set a goal of raising $2 million by end of this year.
John Swenarton, who is member of the Coogan Campaign Committee, said the nature center is receiving the grant "because this land conservation project has statewide importance, due to its natural and historic resources, connectivity, watershed protection attributes and cultural and recreational benefits to the statewide community."
"This is wonderful endorsement of the conservation and environmental aspects of Coogan Farm. Now we know it can be saved as multifaceted open space to be used by all our community. In addition to immediate benefits to our public land conservation ethic, we will, in Coogan Farm, create a vital park where nature and history shape our future," he said is statement.
Jones has stressed that the purchase will not only preserve an important part of Mystic for residents and give them a great opportunity to connect with nature but help maintain the atmosphere that draws tourists to town.
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, which contains a house, barns, old farmland, meadows, orchards and forest, also borders hundreds of acres of other open space parcels.
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. The nature center then proceeded with its campaign to raise all the money itself.
Other southeastern Connecticut projects receiving grants:
• $157,000 to Norwich Public Utilities to buy 52.9 acres in Colchester and Salem to expand the Deep River public water supply watershed.
• $500,000 to Woodsmen Trust Inc. to buy the 170 acres Gurley Brook Preserve in East Lyme.
• $256,750 to the Groton Open Space Association Inc. to buy the 91-acre Candlewood Ridge property in Groton.
• $327,000 to the Lyme Land Conservation Trust Inc. to buy 100-acre Lord Property in Lyme which has frontage along Roaring Brook.
• $142,500 to the Avalonia Land Conservancy Inc. to buy the 74-acre Babcock Ridge Preserve in North Stonington.
• $123,516 to the City of Norwich to buy 3.8 acres of commercially-zoned land at 31 New London Turnpike to provide public access to the Yantic River.
• $143,500 to the Old Lyme Land Trust, Inc. to buy the 44-acre Elyandco, Inc. parcel in Old Lyme.