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Scenic road only open to hikers, cyclists

After two winters of seasonal closure to vehicle traffic, the scenic Lambtown Road Extension is a hikers-, skiiers- and cyclists-only route as of last week.

A 79-signature resident petition and a letter of support from the Groton Open Space Association led the town of Ledyard in 2012 to seasonally close the narrow gravel road, which stretches two miles across fields, forests and wetlands to border Groton. Following a public hearing that fall, at which several abutting property owners spoke in support of the partial closure, gates were installed before the first snow of the season, only to be opened again the following spring.

Before this trial run of closing the route, the extension - designated as scenic under a town ordinance - posed a dilemma to the town, which would spend $5,000 annually to maintain it year-round for safe vehicle passage. Winters were especially tricky: dragging snow plows along the gravel caused it to gradually widen, spreading the gravel, damaging the environment and posing a threat to wildlife.

Other than the emergency services vehicles that will still have access to the one home on the extension, Mayor John Rodolico said there is "no valid reason" for cars to use it.

The town completed extensive road rehabilitation after the first seasonal closure. And after another public hearing earlier this year, the road closed to vehicle traffic for good.

"It's quite a relief," said Ed Lamb, after whose family Lambtown Road is named and whose property runs halfway down the extension. "We've been moving toward that goal for a number of years."

Too many people were using the extension for ways it was never meant to be used, he said, including drivers of heavy trucks, creating potholes and piled-up drainage.

And though the closure creates a "little inconvenience" for him - he occasionally uses the road to get to Mystic - he said he is "all for it."

"It's probably the only initiative that I can think of in my time here -and probably even before - that had no opponents up front," Rodolico said.

And even then, any opposition was more akin to skepticism, he said. Since the initial seasonal closings, the town has received no complaints. People from across the region - not just Ledyard - praised the announcement of the closure, Rodolico said, emphasizing its popularity as a pedestrian route.

"It's just been a win-win-win for the town in terms of keeping the cost of maintenance down, opening it up even more so for walking and biking, and also in solving a problem for the local residents," he said.

The town will continue to do "minor cosmetic work," Rodolico said, to trim back overgrowth that obstructs the road and may pose a hazard to pedestrians.

The permanent closure follows the Groton Open Space Association's December agreement with the Weber family, owners of the historic Avery Farm, located on the extension, to acquire 297 acres of land for preservation of its marshes, fields, hedgerows and forested wetlands.

Part of the property was donated, and GOSA continues to raise funds for the purchase of the rest of it.

Along with the abutting 91-acre GOSA-owned Candlewood Ridge, more than 400 acres of open space along the Groton-Ledyard border will soon be protected from development in perpetuity.

"It just adds a beautiful natural area for people to walk and enjoy," said Mike Cherry, chairman of the Ledyard Planning & Zoning Commission, "and preserves it forever."

A.ISAACS@THEDAY.COM

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