Nonprofit awarded grants in effort to preserve open space in East Lyme, Waterford

A nonprofit focused on sustainable forest management was awarded two state grants to help preserve land in East Lyme and Waterford, as part of its larger goal to protect area forestland.

The New England Forestry Foundation, based in Massachusetts, is receiving the grants under the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection's Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition program.

The grants would support the protection of 33 acres in East Lyme, north of the Interstate 95 and Interstate 395 intersection, and 185 acres in northwest Waterford, according to a news release from the governor's office that announced $4.7 million in grants to help preserve land in 17 towns across the state.

"Both parcels are significant as part of a larger, roughly 2,200-acre forest block and for keeping the Niantic River clean," Whitney Beals, the New England Forestry Foundation's director of land protection, said in a phone interview.

The organization is interested in helping to protect a swath of forestland in East Lyme, Waterford and Montville, whether that means acquiring the land or assisting others in the pursuit, he said.

The 33-acre East Lyme parcel represents the second phase of the "Niantic River Headwaters Preserve," with the first phase being 166 acres that East Lyme residents voted to help protect last year, said Beals.

New England Forestry Foundation has arrangements with KSK Associates, a limited liability company, to purchase the roughly 200 acres of land, he said.

In 2015, East Lyme residents approved allocating $350,000 in town funds to help preserve the 166 acres, located off Goldfinch Terrace and within the Niantic River Watershed, through a conservation easement on the land.

Under the plan presented last year, the New England Forestry Foundation would use a $500,000 state grant and raise money to purchase the property from KSK Associates. The state and town would co-own a conservation easement on the property.

The New England Forestry Foundation is expected to soon close on the $1.15 million, 166-acre property, said Beals. 

The state grant recently announced for the 33-acre East Lyme parcel is $305,500. The acquisition price for the 33 acres will be determined by a final boundary survey, he said, but he anticipates it would be in the neighborhood of $400,000.

The organization plans to fundraise, as well as approach the town of East Lyme about a potential partnership in which the town could contribute some funds for the 33-acre parcel, he said. 

In Waterford, the New England Forestry Foundation is working to acquire 185 acres on two parcels in the northwest part of the town. The grant amount awarded for the Waterford parcels, a project called the Silver Falls Community Forest, is $365,000.

Beals said the foundation is still in the early planning stages for the parcels off Pember Road in Waterford.

"This forest block would be used to protect existing wildlife habitats, contribute to the cleansing of the Niantic River watershed, maintain a healthy forest and provide recreational opportunities for the public," according to the state news release. "Located in the northwest corner of Waterford, where Montville, Waterford and East Lyme converge, acquisition of these two parcels contribute to this regional goal."

State Rep. Kathleen McCarty, R-Waterford, thanked the DEEP for the grant in a written statement last week.  

“I believe that the acquisition and preservation of this land will contribute significantly to conservation efforts, protection of wildlife habitats and an increase in tourism, an important sector of our economy in southeastern Connecticut," she said in the statement. "Conservation efforts like this one, and Save the River-Save the Hills, are vital to maintaining pristine land for the region’s conservation goals and for adding to recreational opportunities for the public.”

The New England Forestry Foundation owns 26,000 acres of forestland and holds conservation easements on an additional 1.1 million acres, said Beals.

Beals said the organization takes a natural resources inventory of each new property and then develops a 10-year forest management plan.

k.drelich@theday.com

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