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Progress on trail and open space projects in Ledyard

Ledyard — Two ongoing projects in town would provide access for residents to more open space and miles of trails. 

As part of their weekly meeting last week, members of the Tri-Town Trail Association walked along a portion of the northern end of the trail, which starts in Preston across the street from Preston Community Park and runs between Route 117 and Avery Hill Road in Ledyard. Aside from two property easements obtained last year, the northern end is entirely on land owned by the town.

A project more than a decade in the making, a 14.4-mile multipurpose Tri-Town Trail is envisioned as running from the northern terminus in Preston to Bluff Point State Park in Groton, with uses ranging from picnicing to commuting by bicycle. Association President Karen Parkinson said they've been working on both ends of the trail to eventually meet in the middle.

She said the northern, 2.4-mile segment created from cow paths ends at Clark Farm. She said it will be ready for public access in early August once volunteers finish installing signs and additional boardwalks with handrails over Joe Clark Brook. The first section, from the park to the first bridge over the brook, is an easy walk through fields into a forest with wetlands, and the rest is more of a hiking trail as it traverses more steep and rough terrain.

"As time progresses, we'll continue to improve and widen the trail," Parkinson said, noting that both brook crossings will eventually require larger bridges. 

Mystic landscape architect Chad Frost, who helped design the trail, said the project is progressing as funding becomes available. The design was funded with a grant from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. He said the association has wetlands approval for the project, but is waiting for a Army Corps of Engineers permit to replace the temporary bridge over the first crossing of Joe Clark Brook with a large span.

He said the final trail will be a crushed rock path like the one around the park in Preston, with switchbacks on the steep parts of the trail so it will meet national park standards for accessibility.

Several members noted the widespread support for the Tri-Town Trail, from residents and town officials to the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments and the state Department of Transportation, which recognized the trail as a Trail of Regional Significance. Keith Parkinson, Karen's husband, said scout troops have said they're interested in helping build the trails, and it could also be used by students in the agri-science program at the high school.

"Frequently young couples that are new residents in the area say that their selection of their town is based on availability of outdoor activity and trails, not necessarily schools, so that shows the importance of this to the region," he said.

Avalonia acquisitions, big and small

On the other end of town, three properties recently acquired by the Avalonia Land Conservancy will add more than 200 acres to existing greenspace.

The Atkinson and Dirlam properties, on opposite sides of Long Cove Road, will add five miles of "recreation-ready" trails to the Great Oak Greenway, according to Julie DuPont-Woody, vice president of Avalonia. Her property used to be part of the Atkinson parcel, and she said she started looking into preserving it in 2015, before she joined the organization, because a 73-home development had been proposed there.

"There's got to be a way where everyone can get what they want, and that's actually why the state open space program is so important," she said. "With the open space program, landowners can get value for their property that they need ... the open space program really allows organizations like Avalonia to preserve open space and to not have to fundraise the full million dollars."

DuPont-Woody spent about a year writing a grant application to acquire funding for the purchase, including maps she made of the trails on the property and photos she took of the wildlife found there. The state grant was awarded in 2018 for $697,755, the full 65% of the property cost allowed by the program, and the remaining money to purchase the property was raised through donations, fundraising events and contributions from the town as well as Groton Utilities, which owns the abutting Morgan Pond reservoir property.

Avalonia officially closed on the two properties last month, and DuPont-Woody is awaiting the arrival of custom-printed trail markers so she can start marking the trails on the Atkinson property. Trails will also have to be constructed on the Dirlam property, as well as a crosswalk between the two.

On the trail walk last week, she pointed out where the trails connect to others in the Great Oak Greenway, including those on the Nathan Lester House property. She said she was excited for the trail system not only for its recreational uses but also its educational potential.

"Really that's how kids will learn the value of nature and how fragile it is if the can see it with their own eyes and see what kind of life is here," she said, noting where the trail crosses a vernal streambed where thousands of frog and salamander eggs hatch in the spring.

The last parcel, also acquired last month, is a half-acre plot on Christy Hill Road foreclosed on by the town in 2015, the subject of a DEEP cleanup and lien. DuPont-Woody said that it was an important piece of land despite its small size because it's next to a trailhead for Avalonia's Barrett Preserve, which has 1.2 miles of trails but a parking area for only one or two cars. She said the half-acre plot, once cleaned up and marked, can now serve as a safe parking area for people accessing the preserve.

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