GROTON — The Groton Open Space Association needs to raise an additional $200,000 for its purchase of the Merritt Property and is seeking public contributions.

Following is the text of a public appeal by Sidney F. Van Zandt, Chairman The Merritt Family Forest Fund Raising Committee:

GOOD NEWS! The five years of legal battles are over. The Merritt Family Forest can now be saved, and we need your help to do it!

Enclosed [see below] is a copy of the New London Day editorial of January 17, 2008, on the good news that GOSA has finally won our legal contest to save the Merritt property–after nearly five long years of continuous and costly effort. We are working with the Department of Environmental Protection now to arrange release of the $650,000 grant that the DEP has held in reserve for us for all these years. This should occur shortly. We now need to raise the balance of the $1 million purchase price.

Stretching along the south side of Route 1 between the summit of Fort Hill and Fishtown Road, the tract is the keystone of Groton’s eastern greenbelt. The greenbelt begins on the west with Bluff Point and the Haley Farm, both state parks that GOSA was instrumental in saving. Together, they total more than 1,000 acres, and they link up with the Mort Wright Preserve, which through the Merritt property in turn is connected to other publicly and privately protected green spaces to the east. These include Pequot Woods, the former Christmas tree farm on Route 1, and — near Cutler Middle School — Beebe Pond Park and Avalonia Land Trust tracts…

The Merritt Family Forest is not only strategically located but is also ecologically rich. It contains stands of trees not logged for more than 130 years, vernal pools, two pristine streams that converge to run into Palmer’s Cove, and diverse wildlife habitat. This description of the environmental treasures of this 75-acre property is taken from an op-ed piece that appeared in The Day June 5, 2005, after GOSA’s first victory, in Superior Court, in the legal drama to save this land. In spite of the optimistic op-ed headline, the legal battle continued until December 2007, when the Appellate Court ruled decisively in GOSA’s favor. The op-ed gives the story of GOSA’s endeavor first to ease the impact of a proposed housing development, and its later discovery with disbelief that it might save the property…

Roughly half of Groton is still open land, but only 11 percent of the town is preserved open space, and development pressures threaten to quickly fill land that is not protected. GOSA feels that it is vitally important to save this valuable piece of property. We note that a proposed development of great density for the north side of Fort Hill has been making the rounds of the Inland Wetlands Agency and the Zoning Commission for over a year and a half. It would essentially clear cut much of those woodlands on that hillside.

Back in April 2003, GOSA signed a contract to buy the Merritt property for $1,000,000, with the aid of the $650,000 state grant. GOSA gave F.L. Merritt, Inc., a deposit of $90,000 at the time. Since then, we have raised more funds and estimate we have a need for an additional $200,000 for the purchase.

We now turn to you to take a stand. Once open space is gone, it is gone! Please join us in this crucial fight to save this jewel by making your most generous contribution to GOSA with the hope of passing on a living legacy for the generations that follow.

Help us in our final push to save this Keystone of the Greenbelt, The Merritt Family Forest.