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.