The Conservation Fund Issues Release on Sheep Farm Purchase

GROTON — Following is the text of a news release issued by The Conservation Fund, Arlington, Virginia, about GOSA’s acquisition of the Sheep Farm Dec. 14, 2010:

The Groton Open Space Association (GOSA) has purchased a 63-acre tract in the Poquonnock uplands of Groton with a loan from The Conservation Fund. The acquired parcel will be open to the public for passive recreation and will function as an outdoor classroom for all ages, providing opportunities for historical and natural studies and community enjoyment.

The property, known as the Sheep Farm, dates back to the early 1700s and includes remnants of agricultural and industrial operations among them an early 18th-century grist mill along Fort Hill Brook and the Samuel Edgecomb House. In a family celebrated for their great size and strength, Edgecomb’s son became famous for his efforts to fight off British troops during the Revolutionary War by effectively throwing 18-pound shots, one with each hand, over the walls of Fort Griswold in Groton.

The Sheep Farm’s mountain laurel forest, meadows, and highly productive wetlands, with three major and two minor vernal pools, provide ideal habitat for a wide array of plant, bird, amphibian and other species. The site’s 10-foot waterfall on Fort Hill Brook forms a natural barrier to migrating fish, with the exception of the American eel, which can scale the rock wall. Fort Hill Brook flows onward from the farm to Mumford Cove, which feeds the Long Island Sound.

GOSA won two state grants totaling $616,500 toward the $878,500 purchase price. These consisted of $534,300 from the Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Grant Program and $82,200 from the DEP/Long Island Sound Fund Program. The balance of $262,000 was raised from seven foundations and many individuals. GOSA required a bridge loan from The Conservation Fund in order to close on the site prior to the scheduled expiration of the purchase option on Dec. 31, 2010, due to a time gap between the announcement of awards and actual funding.

This was GOSA’s second major acquisition in the last several years. In May 2008, it purchased the 75-acre Merritt Family Forest in Groton. GOSA and its members played a major part in the creation of the Haley Farm and Bluff Point state parks in the 1960s and 1970s.

Joan Smith, GOSA president, said: “Our organization faced a tight deadline on the Sheep Farm acquisition. Without timely cash, our option would have lapsed. We are grateful to The Conservation Fund for filling our need for a trusted, reliable and ready source of money to acquire this beautiful property.”

“Like so many of our local land trust partners around the country, the Groton Open Space Association is an all-volunteer organization that is doing amazing work,” said Reggie Hall, manager of The Conservation Fund’s Land Trust Loan Program. “We are ecstatic to have the opportunity to assist them in the protection of the Sheep Farm. The Conservation Fund is fortunate to call the Groton Open Space Association a partner.”

About the Groton Open Space Association

GOSA is a non-profit association founded in 1967. It seeks to promote, acquire, or maintain open space for public use, alone or in cooperation with local, state or federal agencies or with other nonprofit organizations. A further goal is to educate the public about the value of open space, water resources, conservation, and environmental preservation. For further information, see www.gosaonline.org

About The Conservation Fund

The Conservation Fund is dedicated to advancing America’s land and water legacy.  With our partners, we conserve land, train leaders and invest in conservation at home. Since 1985, we have helped protect more than 6.7 million acres, sustaining wild havens, working lands and vibrant communities. For more information visit, www.conservationfund.org.

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GOSA Purchases Sheep Farm

GOSA Purchasing Sheep Farm

Joan Smith, President; Bill Kroll, GOSA lawyer; Michael Tansley, Groton Lenders lawyer; Sidney Van Zandt, vice president; and Sue Sutherland, treasurer at closing on Sheep Farm

GROTON — The Groton Open Space Association purchased Dec. 14, 2010, the 63-acre Sheep Farm on Hazelnut Hill Road for $878,500, climaxing a multi-year effort by GOSA to protect the scenic property.

The transfer of ownership to GOSA from the seller, Groton Lenders LLC, took place in a Waterbury law office during the early afternoon. Joan Smith, president, signed papers for GOSA.

GOSA has won two state grants totaling $616,500 toward the purchase–$534,300 from the Department of Environmental Protection’s Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Grant Program and $82,200 from the DEP/Long Island Sound Program. The balance of $262,000 was raised from seven foundations and many individuals.

The organization is seeking to raise an additional $86,000 to demolish seven disused structures on the site, restore natural habitat, create educational materials, and fund a $50,000 endowment for maintenance and insurance. An anonymous donor has offered to match additional contributions up to a total of  $25,000, provided they are received by Dec. 31, 2010. GOSA’s mailing address is: P.O. Box 9187, Groton, CT 06340-9187. Groton Open Space Association is a non-profit corporation under Section 501 (c) (3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Contributions are income-tax deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law.

The property will be closed to the public for a short period while the seven structures are removed.

GOSA has sought for years to defend the Sheep Farm, site of Groton’s highest waterfall and host to expansive meadows that are relatively rare in Groton’s heavily forested open spaces. In January 2006, GOSA became an official intervenor in the Inland Wetlands Agency hearing on developer Otto Paparazzo’s plan for a 34-lot subdivision on the rugged, ledgy property. At Mr. Paparazzo’s invitation, GOSA worked with the developer to help produce an environmentally friendly plan.

Though Mr. Paparazzo won IWA approval in March 2006 and Planning Commission approval in September 2006, the project stalled. In May 2007 at the urging of then-President Priscilla Pratt, GOSA asked the Conservation Commission, without success, to place the tract on its list of properties desirable for protection. Mrs. Pratt died in June, 2009.

The project remained inactive, ground never broken, in 2008. GOSA–led by Director and now Treasurer Susan Sutherland–obtained a purchase option from Groton Lenders, successor to Mr. Paparazzo. GOSA hoped that it could win a state grant in 2009. When the 2009 grant round did not materialize, Ms. Sutherland negotiated an extension of the option to Dec. 31, 2010. In 2009, she published a history of the 300-year-old farm and milling site.

The Sheep Farm, located at 245-255 Hazelnut Hill Road, is traversed by Fort Hill Brook, which flows onward to Mumford Cove after spilling over a 10-foot rock ledge at the farm. It is the site of three major and two minor vernal pools and abundant wetland species, including Salamanders, Wood Frogs and Spire Snails. Its woods and meadows support Flying Squirrels, Red Fox, Bobcats, Fisher Cats, Coyotes and Deer. Birds include Great Horned and Barred Owls, Red-Shouldered Hawks, Northern Orioles, Brown Thrashers and Wild Turkeys. Further details on the property are available by clicking on the square green button that appears on the GOSA website: www.gosaonline.org.

Joan Smith, GOSA president, wrote both successful state grant requests. Her presentation April 27, 2010, to the Town Council on GOSA’s acquisition plan was instrumental in winning the council’s important endorsement by a 5-4 vote. Vice President Sidney Van Zandt headed fund-raising among private individuals. GOSA members Fred and Eleanor Fischer of Noank tapped foundation sources. Whitney Adams,  a director,  oversaw scientific studies of the site.

In 2008, GOSA acquired the 75-acre Merritt Family Forest on Route 1 between the top of Fort Hill and Fishtown Road.

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GOSA Sheep Farm Project Gets Additional State Grant–$82,200

GOSA Sheep Farm Project

Gov. Jodi Rell Awards GOSA $82,200 Toward Sheep Farm Purchase

NOANK — The Groton Open Space Association was awarded on Dec. 2, 2010, a state grant of $82,200 toward the purchase of the 63-acre Sheep Farm on Hazelnut Hill Road in Groton.

The grant, from the DEP/Long Island Sound Fund, is in addition to a $534,300 sum awarded GOSA by the state Oct. 14, 2010, for the same project. State grants for the project now total $616,500 toward the $878,500 price of the farm.

Governor Jodi Rell presented the award in a ceremony at the Latham Chester Store in Noank. Seventeen awards made at the ceremony totaled nearly $4.5 million. The money will go to protect habitats and restore ecosystems across the state, including coastal areas along Long Island Sound. The Sheep Farm drains via Fort Hill Brook into Mumford Cove and ultimately into the Sound.

GOSA Treasurer Sue Sutherland, commenting later on the award, said that the state money, together with funds raised from institutions and private donors, has provided GOSA with enough money to close on the property. The closing is expected to take place later this month under terms of an option agreement with the owner, Groton Lenders LLC. Ms. Sutherland said GOSA still is raising money for an endowment fund to ensure and maintain the property. In addition, GOSA needs money to remove seven old and unsalvageable buildings, including two houses, from the land.

Commenting on the ceremony, GOSA Vice President Sidney Van Zandt said, “The energy level was high–happy people in the Latham Chester Store, that lovely, lovingly restored building that had been used at the turn of the century when this was a busy fishing boat-building village. There were hard-working recipients from all over the state receiving grants to further environmental protection. DEP Commissioner Amey Marrella has done so well at collecting a team to promote these efforts. So has Governor Rell. Despite all the removal of funds for general use, she has managed to set aside an impressive number of farms and pieces of open space. The whole event was such a happy gathering on this crystal sparkling bright day on the banks of the Mystic River.”

The earlier $534,300 grant was made under the Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Grant Program of the Department of Environmental Protection. The governor’s office said that funding for the Dec. 2 awards comes from environmental enforcement settlements with the DEP and from the Long Island Sound Fund, which is supported primarily by the sale of “Preserve the Sound” vehicle license plates.

Gov. Rell also announced that $5 million in bonding money is expected to be approved when the state Bond Commission meets December 10.  She said, “We are close to preserving 20 farms this year,” and she hopes that pace will continue in the future. She said she ranks farmland preservation high among her achievements as governor.

For The Day’s account of Gov. Rell’s visit, click here.

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GOSA Director Syma Ebbin Honored By ECCD

LISBON, CONNECTICUT — Syma Ebbin, a director of the Groton Open Space Association, has won one of seven awards presented in October by the Eastern Connecticut Conservation District, a non-profit soil and water conservation organization serving 36 communities.

The awards, made at an annual meeting Oct. 13, 2010, recognized “outstanding volunteers and special partnership relationships,” the ECCD said in a news release.

GOSA Director Syma Ebbin

GOSA Director Syma Ebbin

Dr. Ebbin’s students in her “Environmental and Resource Policy” course were invited to act as consultants to the partners in the Niantic River Watershed Protection Plan. The focus of this research was three-fold: students interviewed staff from each of the four watershed towns —  Montville, Salem, Waterford and East Lyme — and assessed the progress made in implementing the Watershed Protection Plan by each municipality. They also focused on the challenges and opportunities for extending protection to riparian buffers or corridors within the Niantic River watershed, and finally, two students conducted a literature review of scientific studies that addressed the issue of effective buffer widths to meet various functional objectives. Over the course of a semester, students learned about the watershed and collected, compiled and presented information that was shared verbally and in report format with these partners. A meeting was held on April 16 in which partners were invited to hear student presentations. It is hoped that the student’s work will be helpful to the partners in their efforts to enhance the implementation of the Watershed Protection Plan, protect coastal and riparian areas and improve water quality.Dr. Ebbin, of the University of Connecticut, Avery Point, and Connecticut Sea Grant, was awarded the Professional Project Contributor Award for “cooperative education and outreach efforts in the Niantic River watershed, supplementing ECCD’s efforts to implement the Niantic River Water Quality Improvement Plan,” the ECCD said. Dr. Ebbin teaches marine and environmental science and policy courses at the University of Connecticut at Avery Point and is the Connecticut Sea Grant Program’s  Research Coordinator. UConn is Connecticut’s Sea Grant College. The Sea Grant Program is a partnership of the nation’s universities and its primary ocean agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Dr. Ebbin has been a GOSA director since 2009.

The release said the following about other winners:

The Town of Lisbon was recognized with the Supporting Town Award in appreciation of their generosity to provide meeting space for many ECCD events. First Selectman Tom Sparkman received the award on behalf of the town.

Bet Zimmerman of Woodstock received the Conservation Journalism Award for a weekly conservation themed column in the Villager newspapers.  Her articles are archived atwww.ourbetternature.org.

The Muddy Boots Award was co-received by Grace Jacobson of Woodstock and Beverly Thornton of Brooklyn for their dedicated volunteer service assisting ECCD in the weekly collection of water samples in Pomfret as part of a bacterial contamination source investigation.

Eric Thomas of the CT Department of Environmental Protection was presented with the ECCDWatershed Champion Award in appreciation of his dedication to protecting the water resources of Connecticut and for generously sharing his vast knowledge of local watersheds, as well as for being a great interagency facilitator.

This year’s Project Partnership Award was given to The Last Green Valley, Inc. in recognition of a five year partnership with ECCD in support of TLGV Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring Program Coordinator.  Receiving this award on behalf of The Last Green Valley was Deputy Executive Director Lois Bruinooge.

Resource Conservation and Development Coordinator Elizabeth “Liz” Rogers of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service was presented with the Partner Organization Leadership Lifetime Achievement Award for her many years of helping improve the region’s natural resource organizations, including ECCD. 

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GOSA Wins $534,300 State Grant For Sheep Farm

SOUTH GLASTONBURY — The Groton Open Space Association received a $534,300 state grant on Oct. 14, 2010 toward the purchase of the 63-acre Sheep Farm on Hazelnut Hill Road, site of Groton’s highest waterfall.

The grant under the state’s Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Grant Program was awarded by Gov. Jodi Rell in a ceremony at The Old Cider Mill in South Glastonbury. Accepting the award for GOSA were President Joan Smith, Vice President Sidney Van Zandt, Treasurer Susan Sutherland and Director Whitney Adams.

Sheep Farm Award to GOSA

(l to r) DEP Commissioner Amey Marrella, GOSA President Joan Smith, Gov. Jodi Rell, GOSA Director Whitney Adams, Vice President Sidney VanZandt, and Treasurer Susan Sutherland

 GOSA is in the midst of a fund-raising drive to raise the $878,500 needed to buy the land from owner Groton Lenders LLC. It has applied for other grants and is seeking donations from individuals as well. GOSA’s option to buy the land expires Dec. 31, and GOSA is hoping to close well in advance of that date.

The Sheep Farm has a documented history going back to colonial times and was used for agriculture until about 2000. Its varied and scenic terrain features woodlands, meadows, cliff, boulders and Fort Hill Brook, which spills over a 10-foot ledge on the farm en route to Mumford Cove. For further information on the farm, click on the rectangular green button to the right of this story.

In another development affecting open space in Groton, the Town of Groton received a $650,000 grant for the purchase of the 30-acre Spicer-Pulaski property on Thomas Road. The award took place at a separate DEP ceremony in East Haddam.

The grants to Groton are part of $10.4 million being awarded this year to support 42 open space land purchases embracing 2,757 acres in 35 cities and towns across Connecticut, the DEP said.

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Inland Wetland Agency Says Sheep Farm Wetlands “Worthy of Protection”

GROTON — The Inland Wetland Agency on April 14, 2010 unanimously approved a letter to GOSA that calls the wetlands of the Sheep Farm on Hazelnut Hill Road “worthy of protection.”

GOSA plans to apply by May 3 for a state open space grant to help cover its planned purchase of the land from Groton Lenders LLC, which has given GOSA an option to buy for $878,500. GOSA had requested endorsement of its application from various bodies, including the IWA, Town Council, and Planning and Conservation Commissions.

The Town Council and Planning Commission are considering the request.

The IWA approved the text of a letter addressed to Joan Smith, GOSA president, saying, “The Groton Inland Wetland Agency has reviewed the material submitted to them at their March 24, 2010 meeting regarding your pending application to the State Department of Environmental Protection for funds to purchase the above-referenced properties [245-255 Hazelnut Hill Road]. The Agency is familiar with this property through its review of the Wetland application for the Groton Highpoint Subdivision [once proposed for the tract]. The wetland resources on the site include Fort Hill Brook, inland wetlands and vernal pools. These resources are worthy of protection.” The letter was signed by David Scott, IWA chairman.

The Conservation Commission said in a June 2, 2009 letter to GOSA that it “does not oppose the purchase of the property as open space, but cannot unconditionally endorse an application for funds to purchase this land given that it is not entirely consistent with the state, regional and local Plans of Conservation and Development.” The commission had said earlier in the letter:

“The natural resources on the site include Fort Hill Brook, wetlands, vernal pools, steep slopes, a blue stem meadow as well as historic features such as old stone walls and an old grist mill.”

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Invasive Plants Being Eradicated On Merritt Garden Area

GROTON — If you’ve driven or walked on Fishtown Road recently, you’ve probably seen signs of a GOSA landscape restoration that’s currently underway in The Merritt Family Forest to the west of the forest entrance.

Cars arrive and depart carrying people equipped with cutting tools. Visibility is improving as Bittersweet vines are being taken down and stacked in piles.

While some of the work can be seen from the road, a short walk west is necessary to see the bulk of it. Spreading east from the tall trees of the forest proper, a meadow is emerging from a thicket of invasive plants in a grown-over tract that hosted victory gardens during World War II.

GOSA Director Marty Young, chair of GOSA’s stewardship committee for The Merritt Family Forest, explains the project below.

Shortly after GOSA acquired The Merritt Family Forest with aid from the state Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Grant Program in May 2008, and after careful study involving identification of the various existing habitats, it became obvious that further enhancement of the land should occur.

A representative of NRCS (the U.S. Agriculture Department’s Natural Resources Conservation Service) confirmed our thoughts after a visit to the site at our request. Thereafter, Priscilla Pratt, the late president of GOSA, signed a contract with the Agriculture Department for a grant. The three-year term of the WHIP grant (Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program) targets approximately 2.4 acres located in the watershed area close to Eccleston Brook. This is at the southeast corner of property where Noank residents tended victory gardens during the Second World War. The Inland Wetlands Agency approved GOSA’s project June 10, 2009.

The project focuses on removal of an infestation of invasive plants–Russian Olive (Elaeagnus Umbellata Thunb.), Bittersweet (Celastrus Orbiculatus Thunb.) and Multiflora Rose (Rosa Multiflora Thunb.) The process extends over a number of years due to the stubborn and aggressive behavior of the invasives, which overwhelm the native plant species that are important to other forms of life.

The project aims at restoration of a natural area that has been biologically degraded. Plant, insect and animal species are being lost at a fast rate. Therefore, we must restore and reestablish a natural system that will benefit the land and wildlife. Over a period of time and without destroying existing native species, we plan to develop an early successional grassland habitat of warm-season grasses for wildlife.

NCRS offered Global Positioning System flagging of the location for the project. GOSA followed up by purchasing required tools. We hired a recently trained arborist and habitat restorationist with abundant botanical knowledge and a familiarity with the property through voluntary work on the tract. He, along with devoted volunteers, is well into the very labor-intensive work. We intend to complete the first phase of restoration by the end of May as stipulated in the contract with the NRCS. Positive changes are coming to a Merritt Family Forest corner that had been in a long period of decline.

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