Coogan Farm in Mystic ready to welcome public

Mystic - The Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center and the Trust for Public Land will celebrate the grand opening of the Nature and Heritage Center at Coogan Farm with a Thursday morning ribbon-cutting and a free community picnic on Saturday.

At 10 a.m. on Thursday, a group of local, state and federal officials including Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman and U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, are expected to attend the public ribbon-cutting of the 45-acre center located on Route 27.

On Saturday, a free community picnic will be held at the farm from 5 to 9 p.m. Residents are asked to bring their own picnic food although local food vendors such as Zest Fresh Pastry and  Meadowstone Farm cheese will have items for sale.

There will be children's activities, including performances by the Mystic Paper Beasts from 5 to 6:30 p.m., and live music by the Cajun/country band Big Mamou. Free shuttle buses will run from Mystic Seaport's north lot opposite Latitude 41 restaurant. On Friday night, the nature center will host an invitation-only reception for the major donors to the Campaign to Save Coogan Farm.

In 2012, the nature center began the effort to preserve 45 acres of the farm. After the Town of Stonington rejected a request to borrow $1.5 million to help preserve the property, the center along with the Trust for Public Land began an effort to raise $3.5 million to purchase 34 acres from the Coogan family, renovate buildings and create the park. Meanwhile, the Coogan family agreed to donate an adjacent 11 acres to the center.

The Campaign to Save Coogan Farm raised $4.1 million and bought the land last September, thanks to contributions from 760 individuals and businesses and grants from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

"Purchasing the farm has ensured recreational and educational opportunities for the public, safeguarded the ecological integrity of two watersheds, provided a haven for wildlife, preserved 400 years of Mystic's agricultural history and solidified Mystic's unique sense of place," the center said in a press release announcing this week's events.

Since the purchase, a committee of volunteers has been working to transform the property into the nature and heritage center. Trails have been improved, brush cut, nearly 400-year-old stone walls have been exposed, an outdoor gathering space created inside an old foundation and plans are being developed to restore the old farmhouse and an outbuilding for programs and exhibits. The restoration of the buildings and landscaping is slated to get underway in 2015 after town permits are obtained. The public will have full access to the property.

A two-acre Giving Garden was also planted this year with produce being donated to the needy through the Gemma E. Moran United Way Labor Food Center in New London.

j.wojtas@theday.com

@joewojtas

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