Its status in flux for 15 years, the largest unprotected coastal forest between New York City and Boston may soon provide hiking, bird watching, and recreational opportunities for public.
The Trust for Public Land (TPL) announced today that it has reached an agreement with River Sound Development, LLC, to purchase 1,000 acres known as The Preserve—the last large unprotected coastal forest between New York City and Boston—for conservation, recreation, and habitat protection. If the acquisition is successful, the land will be permanently protected from future development and open to the public to enjoy for passive recreational activities such as hiking and wildlife viewing. The property, which is rich in natural resources and wildlife, will connect to 500 acres of existing town parkland and miles of existing hiking trails.
Alicia Betty, TPL’s Connecticut state director, said her organization is moving forward with the acquisition and fundraising efforts to raise $10- to $11 million in public and private funds by June 2014, in order to acquire the property and cover stewardship and costs.
“We are thrilled to be able to present this opportunity to the state of Connecticut’s land conservation community,” Betty said. “We’ve been able to end 15 years of uncertainty and can now move forward toward protecting this valuable property of regional significance.”
“The work of the Trust for Public Land to secure rights to The Preserve represents a major milestone in our efforts to preserve critical lands in this state,” said Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy. “We look forward to partnering with the Trust for Public Land and others to make this purchase a reality and protect this property for the future.”
Located in Old Saybrook, Essex, and Westbrook,, The Preserve includes 38 vernal pools and 114 acres of wetlands and more than 3,100 linear feet of watercourses. The dense canopy of forest and the Pequot Swamp Pond act as a refueling stop for many migratory birds, and the many freshwater seeps on the property are home to amphibian species such as the northern dusky salamander, spotted turtles, and box turtles. Bobcats and fisher cats have also been spotted on the property.
In addition to its recreational and habitat resources, The Preserve provides important water quality benefits to residents. Surface waters on the property drain to three different watersheds, the Oyster River, Mud River, and Trout Brook, as they make their way to Long Island Sound. The protection of The Preserve will ensure that stormwater on the site is recharged to local aquifers. An aquifer protection area is located just east of the Preserve and supplies an average of 200,000 gallons per day of drinking water to Old Saybrook and surrounding communities.
The Preserve is located in the area designated by FEMA’s Hurricane Sandy Impact Analysis as having experienced “high impact” from the Superstorm Sandy. Coastal forests like The Preserve have been losing ground for some time as saltwater gradually moves inland as a result of rising tides and sea levels. The Preserve acts act as a sponge for stormwater, releasing it slowly into the tributaries and rivers that lead to the Connecticut River and Long Island Sound, protecting downstream property owners from flooding.
“This is an immensely positive development, and I commend The Trust for Public Land for their leadership in preserving and protecting this priceless natural resource. As attorney general, I was proud to fight on behalf of hundreds of Old Saybrook residents and environmental advocates seeking to protect The Preserve from ecologically devastating development. Once lost, forests and habitats such as The Preserve can never be recovered. This is a great day for Old Saybrook, Long Island Sound, and Connecticut’s environment,” said U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal.
“This property is the last of its kind—an intact thousand acre maritime forest, the source waters of three separate watersheds,” said 36th District State Representative Philip Miller. “It is said that water will be to the 21st century what oil was to the 20th. This will help assure a bright future for this region of Connecticut.”
The Preserve was the subject of development proposals dating back to 1998, including plans to build more than 200 homes and an 18-hole golf course. These plans met with strong opposition and lawsuits from conservation groups and residents. Over the years, multiple attempts were made to acquire the land for conservation, but an agreement was never reached and efforts to develop the property continued.
“Old Saybrook looks forward to working with The Trust for Public Land towards a successful closing on this property, a closing that economically and environmentally favors The Town of Old Saybrook and the region,” said Carl Fortuna, Old Saybrook first selectman. “This property has been at the center of attention, good and bad, for 20 years. It is now time for a resolution. We are optimistic that enough private and public funds can be raised to purchase the property and preserve The Preserve in its natural state. The town will work cooperatively with all parties in this effort, including the DEEP. Most importantly, I will work for and listen to Old Saybrook’s residents as they decide the future of this parcel.”
Many entities and conservation organizations have come together over the years to defend this natural asset for Connecticut and to create this opportunity. The collaboration will continue and will be essential to a successful outcome next year. These entities include: the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CT DEEP), the Towns of Old Saybrook, Essex, and Westbrook, the Old Saybrook Land Trust, the Essex Land Trust, The Connecticut Fund for the Environment/Save the Sound, The Alliance for Sound Area Planning, Audubon Connecticut, and The Nature Conservancy.
Suellen McCuin, a resident of Essex, neighbor of The Preserve and member of the Alliance for Sound Area Planning, stated, “I am so happy to know that this incredible piece of nature will now be forever available for our family, others in the community and future generations to hike, explore and seek solace. It is also great news that so many will continue to benefit from the now protected pristine waters that fill our local public and private wells. We are inextricably linked to this forest. As Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, ‘Forests are the lungs of our land.’”
Founded in 1972, TPL is the leading nonprofit working to conserve land for people. Operating from more than 30 offices nationwide, TPL has protected more than three million acres from the inner city to the wilderness and helped generate more than $34 billion in public funds for conservation. Nearly 10 million people live within a 10-minute walk of a TPL park, garden, or natural area, and millions more visit these sites every year. Learn more at www.tpl.org.