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Stonington working to purchase, preserve 224 acres of forest

Stonington — The town is partnering with the Trust for Public Land to purchase and preserve 224 acres of forest and farmland off Al Harvey Road.

The trust and the town now have 12 months to raise the $1.1 million needed to acquire the three parcels from trustee Katherine Anne Brewster-Duffy of Los Altos, Calif.

The fundraising effort will involve a mix of private donations and possibly federal or state grants. The town also has $318,000 in open space funds that could be used.

"By protecting three properties on Al Harvey we could create a community asset with significant ecological, recreational, economic, and social benefits for Stonington residents and visitors," states a fact sheet distributed by the town.

The three parcels are located along the west side of Al Harvey Road just south of the intersection with Rowley Drive. If the effort is successful, it will be the fourth time the trust and the town have partnered to preserve properties. The other three are the Captain Nathaniel Palmer House, a National Historic Landmark that is home to the Stonington Historical Society; the Mystic River Boathouse Park and the Coogan Farm Nature and Heritage Center.

Honor Lawler, the Connecticut project manager for the trust, said Wednesday that after the land was put up for sale last fall, the town reached out to her organization to see if it could help. She said the trust was able to quickly secure an option to purchase the land and get it off the market while the fundraising effort began.

She said that if the effort to buy the land is successful, ownership of the property would be transferred to an entity such as the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the state or the town. 

Lawler said the property is seen as important habitat for the American Woodcock and the New England cottontail rabbit, a species listed as declining. Copps Brook flows through the property and feeds the Aquarion Water Co. reservoir, which supplies drinking water to thousands of Mystic and Stonington residents. The acquisition also would create a greenway extending from Route 27 in the southwest to Route 184 to the north, linking the water company's preserved land to the south, farmland to the east and other undeveloped land such as the Groton Sportsmen's Club and the Avalonia Land Conservancy Peck-Callahan Preserve.

The land also is located within the boundaries of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's six-state Great Thicket National Wildlife Refuge.

"There's lot of reasons to protect this property," Lawler said. 

j.wojtas@theday.com 

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