Officials plan passive recreation after years of inaction on Darrow Pond property
East Lyme ― More than 10 years after the town purchased the 301-acre Darrow Pond property for open space, the Board of Selectmen on Wednesday signaled its willingness to cede control of roughly a third of the acreage to the Parks and Recreation Commission.
The commission is hoping to move forward with a $22,000 master plan that will use survey responses from residents to help decide what kind of amenities the new park might contain, how it will be laid out and how much the project will cost. The master plan will be funded through the town’s $5.46 million allocation of federal pandemic-relief aid.
Newly hired Parks and Recreation Department director Jerry Lokken told The Day on Thursday that the survey circulated last year garnered several hundred responses. The most requested amenities were a walking and cycling trails, a canoe launch and a disc golf course.
Selectmen voted unanimously to have the town attorney draft a resolution placing the 100 acres “under the control of the Parks and Recreation Commission.” They suggested the resolution should specifically outline the property boundaries and include a provision requiring selectmen and the Police Commission, which is the town’s traffic authority, to endorse any final plan for the 100 acres.
First Selectman Kevin Seery said the narrow, winding nature of Mostowy Road, which leads to the property, will have to be taken into consideration in the master plan.
The site is already home to the southernmost trailhead of the Richard H. Goodwin Trail, which starts with a small parking lot off Mostowy Road and continues into East Haddam. A 2013 environmental review reported the 300 acres comprise fields, hardwood forests, wetlands and vernal pools, in addition to the pond.
Parks and Recreation Commissioner Pat Larkin said members want official authority over the acreage before they sign a contract for the creation of a master plan.
Larkin said the commission members decided it was not prudent for them to invest the town’s money in a master plan unless they had control of the land.
The town purchased the property for $4.1 million in 2011 with the help of the national nonprofit Trust for Public Land, which paid for all the environmental and legal work associated with the purchase. The other 200 acres not being transferred to the Parks and Recreation Commission are protected by a conservation easement.
Previous owners had pitched an 18-hole golf course and a 600-unit housing development for the property over the course of a contentious decade that saw bankruptcy, lawsuits, settlements and a foreclosure.
Seery, emphasizing the use of the site for passive recreation, said topography and access issues make it impractical for more active uses like sports fields.
“Personally I think right now it’s underutilized and underappreciated by the town,” he said. “I think there’s more that can be done up there.”
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