Forward Thinking: Preserve a Ledyard Farm, Close a Road to Traffic By Steve Fagin

Published in The Day on Feb. 22, 2014    While running with my old pal Johnny Kelley of Mystic years ago we loped toward Ledyard, where pavement gave way to gravel.

Soon we passed an expansive bog that bordered a dense forest, which gradually opened up into rolling pastures with grazing horses.

A man on a tractor waved as we approached.

“Hey, Johnny!”

Throughout New England you could not accompany Kell, the gone but never-forgotten 1957 Boston Marathon champ and two-time Olympian, without someone shouting a greeting.

“Hi, Art!” Johnny replied, barely breaking stride, and off we went into the hills.

This was Art Weber, who lived with his wife, Judy, on a 298-acre farm on Lambtown Road Extension that straddles Groton and Ledyard.

The narrow dirt byway that passed through their farm became one of my favorite running and biking routes, and I eventually came to know Art and Judy. Art, in fact, had been a city editor at The Day, but in his heart he was a farmer, and every spring he dug up and balled a couple dozen pines and hemlocks from areas he was clearing, which I then hauled back to my house and transplanted. Today these trees are nearly 50 feet tall.

Art died a number of years ago, but Judy, whose father, Latham

Avery, bought the property in 1929, still lives in the Colonial-era farmhouse, thanks to an arrangement she made late last year with the Groton Open Space Association. She is donating 146 acres in Groton to the land preservation group, and selling the Ledyard portion to GOSA, guaranteeing that the entire, magnificent parcel will remain undeveloped.

This is wonderful news, especially since the property is adjacent to another recent GOSA acquisition, the 91-acre Candlewood Ridge preserve, which has outstanding trails for hiking and cross-country skiing. Both properties contain streams, pools, mature oak and beech forests and mountain laurel, and are home to hundreds of species of birds, turtles, amphibians and other woodland creatures.

Dr. Robert Askins, Katherine Blunt Professor of Biology at Connecticut College, calls the Avery Farm “one of the most biologically diverse and valuable sites for conservation in eastern Connecticut.”

The town of Ledyard, which maintains Lambtown Road Extension, has for the past two years closed it to cars during winter to help prevent erosion and unintentional widening by snow plows. This measure, incidentally, also saved about $2,500 in road repairs.

Last week officials announced a better idea: Keep the gate at the north end of Lambtown Road Extension closed to traffic year-round. Hikers, bicyclists and runners, of course, would still be allowed through.

The southern end has its own gate that emergency vehicles and Judy Weber can use, but, as Ledyard Mayor John Rodolico noted, there is “no valid reason” for other cars to use that road.

Amen, and well said.

Ledyard’s Planning and Zoning Commission must first hold a public hearing, but Mayor Rodolico hopes the proposal is adopted next month.

I don’t recall many other instances in which a town closed a public road to cars, and hope it inspires others to follow suit. Though we live in comparatively rural southeastern Connecticut, there’s still way too much asphalt and concrete. Many mistakenly view new roads as “progress,” as evidenced by elaborate ribbon-cutting ceremonies whenever one opens.

Maybe Ledyard and the open space association should conduct a symbolic ribbon-tying to celebrate the closing of Lambtown Road Extension.

GOSA, which has helped preserve thousands of acres throughout the region, including such treasures as Bluff Point and Haley Farm, now is seeking state grants and raising money to complete the purchase of the Avery Farm. One generous contributor has kicked in $25,000 to match donations made by March 31.

Tax-deductible donations can be made to the Groton Open Space Association, Inc., P.O. Box 9187, Groton, CT 06340-9187, or through the website gosaonline.org.

GOSA also is offering tours of the Avery Farm property at 2 p.m. every Sunday in February and March.

Just remember, if you arrive by car, you can’t drive through Lambtown Road Extension.

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The Sheep Farm by Sue Sutherland

The Sheep Farm is an 18th-century farm spread over 63 acres of varied terrain and Avalonian ledge. Fort Hill Brook flows through the farm and on into Mumford Cove. This eel grass cove on Long Island Sound provides pristine habitat for fish and shellfish and is a regional recreational and environmental treasure. The Sheep Farm connects to more than 50 acres of proposed open space and is close to more than 1,700 acres of open space. Highlights include:

  • Waterfalls  over a spectacular 10-foot rock ledge
  • Wetlands  that provide a key Amphibian Habitat
  • Vernal Pools   3 major and 2 minor, exceptional rock-lined vernal pools
  • Green Belt to Mumford Cove
  • Meadows seeded with native grasses and flowers
  • Mountain Laurel Forest                                             

Animals on the Sheep Farm Wetland Species  Four-toed, Spotted and Redback Salamanders, Wood Frogs, Green Frogs, rare Spire Shelled aquatic Snails, aquatic Gordian Worm, Mayflies, Stoneflies, Caddisflies, Dragonflies (larval evidence of excellent water quality) Birds  Great Horned and Barred Owls, Red-shouldered and Red-tailed Hawk, Belted Kingfisher, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Eastern Bluebird, Wood Thrush, Cedar Waxwing, Yellow Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Northern Oriole, Big Brown Bat, Wild Turkey Other Animals  Flying Squirrels, Red Fox, Bobcats, Fisher Cats, Coyotes, Deer Insects  White Great Northern Bumblebee, Spring Azure, Fritillary, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail and many more Butterflies

Highly Functioning, Productive Wetlands that provide estuary protection to the Mumford Cove habitat as well as flood control and water filtration services.  Sigrun Gadwa, scientist and ecologist, observed the following about The Sheep Farm wetlands: “As a wetland scientist, I have evaluated several hundred wetlands over the past twenty years; the wetland system at the base of the Sheep Farm property along Fort Hill Brook is one of the highest-functioning that I have ever assessed.  This property is an integral part of an important open space and wildlife corridor, extending all the way to Mumford Cove, the only remaining coastal embayment still clean enough for an eel grass population.”

History of The Sheep Farm The rich history of the Sheep Farm was fully researched by GOSA.  Originally owned by the Jabez Smith family, the farm has been used for agricultural and industrial operations for over 300 years, and for raising sheep, up to 10 years ago. Original stone walls, now lichen-covered, rectangular stone foundations, probably for animal enclosures, an old road, the grist and other mill dams on site, are very well preserved.  The 125-foot long, 15-foot wide grist mill dam straddles Fort Hill Brook, a perennial stream which runs through the property.  There is evidence upstream on Fort Hill Brook of another mill, perhaps a fulling mill used to pound cloth to soften it, or perhaps a sawmill, from the early 18thcentury. The foundation of an early center-chimney gambrel 1700’s house, known as the Samuel Edgecomb House, is located on the property.  Samuel Jr. “was ploughing rye at the time of the alarm (to defend Groton from the British) and left for the fort at once, not stopping to loose his oxen.”  Samuel was a large man who fought the British by effectively throwing 18 pound shot, one with each hand, over the walls of Fort Griswold. Still surviving are boundary markers mentioned in the deeds, such as heaps of stones, stone walls tapering off on to rising ledges, two parallel stone walls, double stone walls, the stone barn foundation and the remains of the grist mill and other mills.  The Sheep Farm property is in fact only slightly larger now than it was in Colonial times.  Lichen covered walls run throughout the Sheep Farm, enclosing several large meadows, intact from Colonial times.  Other stone walls end on rock ledges.  There are six Major Rock Ledges with fine views over the Sheep Farm, woods and brook.  Glacial erratics, large boulders left after the last ice age, are strewn throughout the Sheep Farm and adjacent fifty acres of proposed open space. An extensive Mountain Laurel forest can be found to the north of the Sheep Farm, intersected by Fort Hill Brook.  Then a large Red Maple swamp is followed by Azalea gardens to the south.  After a rain, the roaring waterfall can be heard throughout the land.

Native Plants on the Sheep Farm Trees  Tulip, abundant Flowering Dogwoods, Butternut, remnant American Chestnut, American Sycamore, Tupelo, Sassafras, White Pine, Witch Hazel, Sweet, Gray and Yellow Birch Trees, American Beech, Pin Oak, Red Oak, Red Maple Shrubs  Swamp Sweetbells, Summersweet, Early and Swamp Azaleas (fragrant – see picture below), Mountain Laurel, Spicebush, Buttonbush, Winged Sumac, Arrowwood, Maple-leaved Viburnum, Maleberry, Low and Highbush Blueberry Vines  Native American Wisteria, Riverbank and Fox Grape Herbs   Golden Saxifrage, Golden Ragwort, Cardinal Flower, Marsh Marigold, Starflower, Partridgeberry, Red and White Indian Pipes, Small Ginseng, Northern White and Marsh Blue Violets, Dolls Eyes, Canada and Pennsylvania Lilies, Water Pennywort, Water Dock, Early Meadow Rue, and Meadow Grasses – Little Bluestem Ferns   Royal, Cinnamon, Interrupted, Ebony Spleenwort, Sensitive, Broad Beech, Crested Wood, Leathery Grape, Polypody and New York Mosses, Lichens, Mushrooms   an amazing variety given the extensive wetlands

To view a slide show of the Sheep Farm click here.

Trail guide and map  of the Sheep Farm.

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