Published October 01. 2013 4:00PM Updated October 01. 2013 11:57PM
Mystic — The Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center and Trust for Public Land announced Tuesday that the nature center purchased 34 acres of the Coogan Farm off Route 27 on Sept. 19.
The $2.8 million purchase from the Clara Morgan Coogan Trust is a major milestone in the nature center's $3.5 million plan to preserve the land and make improvements to turn it into a public park.
After Stonington officials said in June 2012 that the town would not ask residents to provide $1.5 million in funding for the project, the nature center embarked on a fundraising campaign which so far has generated $3.1 million.
This includes private donations along with grants of $500,000 from the state and $600,000 from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
"The people of Stonington, Mystic and Groton have been extremely supportive of this project. It goes to show preserving nature and our cultural heritage is important to them, and they voted with their pocketbooks," said Executive Director Maggie Jones. "And the community continues to be supportive."
"We're absolutely thrilled," she said, adding that fundraising will continue through the end of the year.
Jones said the project "is great for residents, visitors and businesses."
She said the purchase ties in with the nature center's mission of "preserving pockets of wilderness in our own backyards so people can connect with nature."
Charles J. Hamm of Mystic, whose wife, Irene, made the largest private donation to the project, said in a statement from the trust that "this farm is more than a century older than the state of Connecticut and has seen some of our greatest history and commerce, including building the clipper ships in Mystic. We need to protect places like this which so embody the best of our American spirit."
Ellen Coogan Marshall, a representative of the Coogan Trust, said, "The family is so happy that this farm will remain the pure and natural beauty it has always had. We are pleased to know that many local residents, visitors and children will be able to enjoy this special place as we did for so many years."
Jones said the project's Farm Implementation Team will now begin to improve trails and signage and renovate the house and barn to transform the site into a public park "so people can connect with nature and their cultural history."
She said the amount of work done depends on how much money is raised. In addition, she said, Boy Scouts will begin doing projects on the property such as clearing trails and building bird nests. A grand opening is slated for next spring.
The Coogan family has already donated an adjacent 11-acre parcel to the nature center, which along with the purchased land creates a 300-acre greenbelt with trails that links the nature center with the attractions along Coogan Boulevard, Mystic Seaport and surrounding neighborhoods.