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Avalonia Land Conservancy receives donation of 47 acres in Norwich

Norwich — John and Mary Polaski loved their Cedar Wood Farm on North Wawecus Hill Road, but about four years ago, the couple realized they were done with farming and were ready to move to New Hampshire.

But John Polaski Jr., who had purchased the property with his father, John Polaski Sr., in 1979, did not want to sell the property and see it turn into another housing development. Polaski contacted a Connecticut land conservation agency and that group referred him to the Avalonia Land Conservancy. Avalonia, the southeastern Connecticut land conservation group, has been expanding its holdings in northern New London County and excitedly accepted the Polaskis’ offer to donate the land.

The Polaskis divided the property, separating the house, barn and 5.5 acres and agreeing to donate the remaining 47.27 acres of woodland, farm and former farm fields, old stone walls, ridges, brooks and seven hills to Avalonia. On Wednesday, the deed transaction was filed in the Norwich city clerk’s office, formally adding the property to Avalonia’s holdings.

“I’ve been into conservation for a long time,” John Polaski said. “It’s a beautiful piece of property. I farmed it for 40 years, and I didn’t want to see it developed.”

Polaski’s father died shortly after the family purchased the property called Cedar Wood Farm. Polaski Jr. raised horses, cows, goats and chickens there.

Avalonia will name the piece Cedar Wood Preserve, in honor of the farm’s name and to highlight the dense sections of Eastern red cedar trees on the property.

It could take another year for the property to be accessible to the public, however, said Dennis Main, Avalonia past board president. The first step will be to survey the land and mark the boundaries, assess the critical and sensitive habitats and inhabitants, including wetlands, possible endangered species and nesting grounds, clear the former farm roads and logging trails that traverse the land and mark hiking trails. The entrance likely will be a spot along North Wawecus Hill Road a bit north of a cellphone tower access road.

Main and Avalonia Land Acquisition Committee Chairman David Stygar, armed with a paper map and a cellphone to record bird songs, hiked through the property last week. They made mental notes of key spots that needed attention such as removing dead trees and invasive plants and debris.

They noted one old farm truck frame and a plastic barrel, but little other manmade debris littered the property. Stygar collected a half-deflated helium balloon, and the two ate a few black raspberries, pulled out some young bittersweet sprouts and broke off branches of invasive wild roses as they hiked along. Stygar wished he had brought a machete.

Border markers will be erected every 50 feet to alert future hikers of the property boundaries, and trails will be marked, Main said.

Main also used his cellphone to record the songs of 29 species during the hike and later declared the new preserve a birding "hot spot."

The distant din of traffic from Interstate 395 could be heard, as the property nears the highway, but the traffic was out of sight.

Prior to the hike, neighbor Anne Hutchins of 230 N. Wawecus Hill Road, greeted Main at the entrance to the cell tower road. Main explained the plans to preserve the property.

“It’s a nice area,” said Hutchins, who has lived there for 25 years. “I’m so glad it’s going into conservation. There are so many animals here.”

Main added that with Avalonia’s expanded holdings in northern New London County, the conservancy might be looking to recruit new members for its Northern Committee, which covers the conservancy’s Norwich holdings. In addition to the new property on North Wawecus Hill Road, Avalonia has a conservation easement on 450 acres of property owned by the Browning family in the rural northern section of the city.

Avalonia has been busy during the pandemic acquiring and preserving properties. In addition to the Cedar Wood Preserve, the conservancy completed the purchase of a 450-acre parcel in North Stonington and partnered with Groton Utilities to preserve a 228-acre property at the Ledyard-Groton line. Avalonia is working on a partnership with the town of Preston to purchase two properties totaling 177 acres off Rude Road near the Griswold town line.

The new Norwich piece brings Avalonia’s total holdings to over 4,500 acres throughout New London County, plus two small islands offshore.

Main said if there is enough interest, it’s possible Avalonia will recruit volunteers to create a “Norwich Committee” to manage the Norwich properties.

c.bessette@theday.com

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