The Merritt Family Forest


The Merritt Family Forest - Groton Open SpacesThis 75-acre property extends from the top of Fort Hill along Route 1 to Fishtown Road. It is a critical link in an important greenbelt tying together many town-owned and state-owned lands, connecting inland parcels with the shores of Long Island Sound. The Merritt Family Forest is contiguous to the Groton Town-owned land including the Mortimer Wright Nature Preserve which connects to Haley Farm State Park and Bluff Point State Park and Coastal Reserve. Combined, over 1,160 acres of habitat area are available for wildlife and watershed protection.

Part of the original Fanning/ Eccleston Farm, founded in 1705, it ranged from the top of Fort Hill to the common lands of Noank, a few miles away, and included up to 200 acres. The original 1732 farmhouse and fields still exist on 6 acres of land adjacent to the Merritt property. The Francis E. Merritt family acquired the property in 1868. Fort Hill was the site of the fortified village of Chief Sassacus, later occupied by Robin Cassasinamon and his tribe in 1669. There is one known colonial archeological site on the property and four Native American campsites in close proximity as documented by Nicholas Bellantoni, State Archeologist.

In 2002, the property was considered for residential development and GOSA recommended a plan to lessen the impact of stormwater runoff to Eccleston Brook. This large tract of land is a key property connection in Groton’s east-west greenbelt. Development threatened habitat fragmentation and loss. Subsequently, both the developer and the Merritt family offered GOSA the opportunity to purchase the property. Nelson Merritt, grandson of Francis E. Merritt acted as trustee for the family.

Acquired in May of 2008, this project was funded by member donations, community clubs, local organizations, businesses, local and national foundations, and grants from the CT DEEP Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Program.

The State of CT holds a conservation easement on the 75-acre property.

Property Highlights

– The Merritt Family Forest is part of a large block of forested open space. The upper portion includes a steep, rocky, wooded upland with a mature hardwood forest. Descendants claim the forest remained uncut since the family acquired the property in 1848. The lower portion includes a meadow, and hosts a Tier 1 vernal pool and two Class A streams – Eccleston Brook and an intermittent tributary.

– Eccleston Brook flows into Palmer Cove, Fisher’s Island Sound and Long Island Sound.

– A 4 acre meadow was planted with native grasses and forbs at the site of a World War II era Community Victory Garden.

– A Colonial stone slab bridge crosses Eccleston Brook at the Fishtown Road entrance.

– Portion of the X Town Trail

Plan Your Visit

The Merritt Family Forest Map

Click on the map to enlarge or download.

Walking – meadow loop with granite bench

Hiking – moderately steep trails are part of the X- Town Trail

Bird and Wildlife Viewing – forest interior breeding birds, migrant songbirds, edge species, and vernal pool amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and insect pollinators.

Art Opportunities – photography, painting, drawing

Winter Activities – snow shoeing, cross-country skiing

This is an approximate location, there is currently no street address for this property. The map below is a general guide.

Contact us at for tours or directions.

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Celebration and Dedication of the Stone Bench for Mary Cory Merritt at the Merritt Family Forest

A beautiful summer/fall day on Monday, October 10, 2011 with temperatures in the high 70’s greeted the 39 guests plus some young neighborhood boys and several wild turkeys. We gathered in a circle of chairs to celebrate Mary Cory Merritt’s life. Eccleston Brook gurgled past us in the background. Next to us was a colorful tent with displays of maps, photos documenting the restoration of the meadow, and pictures of Merritt family members. Two large tables held food, a large decorative pumpkin from Sue Sutherland’s garden, and flowers from Nobby Williams. Dignitaries included Elissa Wright, State Representative and classmate of Susan Merritt, Andrew Maynard, State Senator and Noank native, and Fernando Rincon, our friend and coordinator for the habitat restoration program.

The event began with a welcome by President Joan Smith followed by a statement by Sidney Van Zandt, Vice-President. Sidney thanked the many individuals who had given their time and expertise to help make The Merritt Family Forest a lovely piece of open space, and she thanked the Merritt Family for selling the property to the Groton Open Space Association. (Click here to read the full text of Sidney’s remarks))

Susan Merritt opened a memorial ceremony for Mary, beginning with a piano piece of “Amazing Grace.” Her sisters Debra Matroienni and Nancy Treuer read a poem entitled “A Tree Blessing in the Year of the Forest.” This was followed by a beautiful hymn sung with a resonant male voice.

The afternoon then was full of rememberings. Nelson Merritt and his sister Marion “Mimi” Merritt Orkney sat together the whole time and each elaborated on their lives together. Nelson regaled us with his story of a horse taking off and racing around the field “like a Roman arena” when his plow hit a hornet’s nest. Some cousins met for the first time, and daughters wanted to know more about their family as they brought chairs close around. Name tags helped us all to learn the relationship with many of the various family members. Whitney Adams and Charlie Boos lead tours into the upper trails. We were still enjoying the day and lingered as long as we could in the warmth of friendship and the late afternoon sun.

Sarah Holmes, a University of Connecticut history professor was there with one of her students, Anne Meher, who had toured the site a few weeks before. Anne brought the large piece of pottery that she had found off the upper green trail. Nelson thought that it might have been made by Indians. Anne’s research came up with salt-glazed ware, likely produced in Stonington in the years between 1760 to 1830.

Nobody wanted to leave. Mary’s daughters spent some time up the grass laneway sitting on their Mother’s bench overlooking the field. Soon afterward, a flock of wild turkeys walked the same lane past the bench. It was a special day for all of us.

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A Merritt Family Forest History: The Farm On Fort Hill

The following is a reminiscence by Nelson A. Merritt about the family farm on Fort Hill, a portion of which was to become The Merritt Family Forest.
The article was written in 2011.

The farm that I was born and raised on was called Fort Hill Farm, thus named because it was located on the very site of the original fort of the Indian Chief Sassacus, the ruling chief of the Mashantucket Pequot Indians.  The farm itself was around 270 acres, one of the rather large ones in eastern Connecticut. It overlaid the original boundaries of the Indian fort almost exactly from the Eccleston brook on the east to the Poquonnock brook and Poquonnock plains on the west. The farm was bounded, as the fort had been, on the north by the original Indian trail (part of which is now U.S. Route One) that led between Fort Hill and the other Pequot fort located on Pequot Hill two miles to the east in Mystic.  On the south it was bounded by land that consisted of Indian hunting grounds, land which is now the Haley farm, leading to the seacoast.

In the very center of the farm on the top of Fort Hill there is a fresh water spring, a few acres in size that had supplied water to the thousands of Indians, braves, women and children, who had lived in the fort. It is still there, a pristine, primeval spring. It has been said that the water comes underground from a source about 300 miles away in the Adirondack Mountains.  In any case, the spring has never gone dry as far as is known. The water is not deep enough to swim in because there is a brook draining it off, but it was excellent for ice games when frozen over in the winter.  When groups were out on the ice, those who had skates on would pull the others on sleds or barrel staves as the case might be, up and down the 500 foot length of the ice surface, an exciting, lively party.

Fort Hill Farm is much higher in elevation than the surrounding territory; the view of the seacoast was unbelievable.  One could see the mouth of the Thames River in New London and the splendor of the Atlantic Ocean on the other side of Fishers Island Sound to Long Island. When a ferry left New London Harbor it could be seen going past Fishers Island and Watch Hill as it plowed through the waves of the Atlantic Ocean to Block Island.  On a calm day the white of its hull stood out in sharp contrast to the blue background of the sea.  In my grandparents’ time a mariner’s telescope was kept in the attic for spotting ships coming in to New London and Mystic on the Atlantic Ocean well out beyond Fishers Island, some from the Caribbean, others were traders from up and down the coast.

When my grandparents, Francis Edwin Merritt and Abby Crouch Merritt, purchased the farm as a young couple in the middle of the 1800’s there were several small sections of it missing, a few small farming plots, a grist mill and a church or two having been acquired from the original owner by small farmers shortly after the Revolutionary War.  My grandfather diligently re-acquired these missing pieces as they became available; in a few years the entire facility was complete again.

The house on the farm was built in 1732, long after the Mashantuckets were gone from the fort.  There were six rooms plus a bathroom on each floor. There was a very large kitchen on each floor with a wood burning range at one end and an oval table that held at least ten or twelve people on the other end.  It was customary for the family running the farm to live on the first floor and the grandparents to live on the second.  Each kept their best things in their parlor which was to be used only for Sunday dinners. There was a common cellar and a full attic, the cellar being used in the winter for storage of potatoes, turnips, apples and barrels of cider.  The attic was a very large open room running the length of the house with windows at each end.  It held a loom for weaving, spinning wheels and carding equipment that were used by earlier generations to make cloth of various kinds for blankets and clothing.

A single story annex on the back of the house covered a cistern for holding rain water in early times before there was a deep well.  In later years, the late eighteen and early nineteen hundreds, the house was completely updated with a deep driven well, electric pump and piping to the kitchen and full bathrooms on each floor as well as piping to the outlying buildings.  Electric lighting was also supplied to the house and all the buildings.  A wood range was retained for cooking, however, and fireplaces were used in each room for heating.

The size and complexities of the overall facility were overwhelming.  Besides the house there were three barns, The Cow Barn, which held the milking cows, had electrical milking machines.  The second barn was the East Barn, which housed the heifers and calves that would eventually be milkers once they had grown up.  Electrical milking machines were not needed there.  The cows and calves from the East Barn were very numerous.  The grazing area that they used for about nine months of the year was made up of what is now the Merritt Family Forest.  Then there was the Horse Barn, which housed the horses in stalls with their harnesses and other paraphernalia hung on pegs on the walls. The Horse Barn had a large area for storing implements such as horse drawn mowers and also had an extensive work area with forge, anvil and heavy tools of all kinds for working on the machinery around the farm.

All of the barns had haylofts that had to be filled each year with hay for the animals for the coming winter. Both the Cow Barn and the East Barn had horse powered hay lifters that picked the hay off of the hay wagons and transported it along a rail in the peak of the roof of the hay loft to a point where the operator “tripped” the lifters, dropping the hay in selected locations.  These powered loaders were great labor saving devices over the situation at the Horse Barn where the unloading was all manual.

There was a long carriage shed some distance from the barns that sheltered various wagons, including very elaborate surreys and fancy buggies and a one-horse milk delivery wagon.  These provided all of the means of transportation there was until Francis Merritt bought his first Oldsmobile truck and Oldsmobile sedan in the middle 1920’s. At the end of this shed was a closed-in woodworking shop complete with electric power tools of every kind that can be imagined. I am told that my grandfather Francis E. Merritt built this shed and furnished it with tools so he could do his own ‘thing’ after he retired from active management of the farm and his son, Francis L., took it over. Grandfather had worked at the Noank Shipyard before and during the Civil War and he was a skilled designer and craftsman.

There were a number of smaller buildings–a milk house which had a boiler in the basement that provided steam and hot water for washing and sterilizing milk bottles and cans.  It also had electrical refrigeration for cooling the milk as well as equipment for filling milk bottles automatically.

There was a gasoline powered rotary saw station located in what was called the wood yard.  This was used to cut the logs brought in from the woods into short lengths for the fireplaces and stoves for the coming winters. Wood of various lengths was also sold.  Whenever there was time available we went into the woods with horse and wagon, axes, hammers and wedges and saws to cut and split logs regardless of the time of the year, although it was better to “sled” the wood out in the winter when the ground was frozen.  The saws we used were called crosscuts and each required two people as there were handles on each end. There were also corn cribs, chicken and turkey coops and a pig sty.

Besides the unusually large assembly of buildings, equipment and machinery to be used and maintained there were large pieces of equipment that would not fit in the buildings such as the stone wall builder, large hay wagons and steel rollers for keeping up the roads on the farm.

This was the farm I came into on June 16, 1920. I was the fifth child with two older brothers and two older sisters–boy girl, boy girl.  Two more came later, girl, boy, making a total of seven eventually.

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The Merritt Family Forest A Reality After 5-Year Delay

GROTON — The Groton Open Space Association on May 16, 2008, bought a 75-acre wooded tract from F.L. Merritt, Inc. for $1 million following a nearly five-year court battle with a developer who had sought the land for a 48-house residential subdivision.

The property, which runs along Route 1 between the top of Fort Hill and Fishtown Road, henceforth will be known as The Merritt Family Forest. Since 1868, it had belonged to the Merritt family.

Paperwork transferring ownership was signed by Nelson A. Merritt, president of F.L. Merritt, and by Priscilla W. Pratt, president of GOSA, at the Pratt-Wright Gallery in Noank.

Ms. Pratt said:

“GOSA is extremely grateful this day to be able to add this beautiful land to the preserved open space of Groton. Deepest appreciation goes to the Merritt family who patiently endured five years of a developer’s fruitless litigation; to the Department of Environmental Protection who believed so steadfastly in the rightness of the acquisition; to the lawyers who worked so tirelessly in our behalf; and to the public who have encouraged us both morally and financially throughout the years. The triumph of this achievement belongs to them as well as to GOSA, and it belongs especially to the children and adults of today and tomorrow, who will be able to enjoy forever the unspoiled natural treasures of The Merritt Family Forest.”

Mr. Merritt said, “It is wonderful that GOSA, with the assistance of the State of Connecticut, has found the way to preserve this forest primeval for all future generations and for all time.”

State Rep. Elissa Wright (D-Groton), who attended the signing, expressed deep appreciation to the Merritts for ensuring the preservation and protection of the land. She added: “As the Merritt family has done for generations, our generation needs to start to think in 20 to 100 year time spans — that exceed our own life spans and beyond our current terms of office — to conserve ecosystems, protect the land, and preserve habitat and biodiversity for our grandchildren, great grandchildren, and beyond.”

GOSA, the new owner, has given a conservation easement to the State of Connecticut providing that the land shall be kept in its natural, scenic and open condition in perpetuity. Public access is granted for hiking, jogging and for other non-motorized passive recreational uses that will be listed in GOSA’s management plan, currently being created.

Of the total purchase price, $650,000 was supplied by the Department of Environmental Protection’s Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Grant Program. The remainder was raised by GOSA through contributions from individuals and from institutions. GOSA still must raise funds to pay off an unsecured bridge loan, recoup acquisition expenses, and build up an endowment for insurance and other future outlays. Final goal of a GOSA fund-raising campaign chaired by GOSA Director Sidney Van Zandt is $1,080,000.

The Merritt Property, rich in wildlife and plant variety, functions as a green bridge between protected lands on its eastern and western sides, and it is itself an impressive piece of rugged woodland. It is crossed by Eccleston Brook and a tributary, Cowslip Brook, which converge and flow into Palmer Cove and Fisher’s Island Sound. To the west are the Bluff Point and Haley Farm state parks (more than 1,000 acres together) and the Mortimer Wright Preserve (88 acres owned by the town). To the east of the Merritt property lie the town-owned Pequot Woods (140 acres) and Beebe Pond Park (95 acres), as well as some 75 acres protected by private conservation easements.

GOSA had signed a purchase agreement with F.L. Merritt April 14, 2003. The next day, Ravenswood Construction LLC, a Cheshire developer, filed notice of an impending suit to force Merritt to sell to Ravenswood, based on a claim of a valid prior contract. In June, the developer filed an additional suit, this time against GOSA and nine individuals, claiming interference with its contract and abuse of the legal process. Ravenswood withdrew the suit in July, as the state attorney general prepared to back GOSA.

On May 18, 2005, a New London Superior Court jury found in favor Merritt and co-defendant GOSA, determining that the developer did not have a valid contract to buy the land from Merritt. Ravenswood appealed to the Appellate Court. The jury verdict was upheld by the Appellate Court on Dec. 12, 2007.

The issue finally was settled in January 2008, when Ravenswood decided not to seek a state Supreme Court review of the Appellate Court’s ruling.

Atty. William Kroll, of Salem, represented F.L. Merritt in the New London Superior Court jury trial, with William Hescock, of North Stonington representing GOSA. Paulann H. Sheets of Groton was attorney for GOSA during Ravenswood’s short-lived suit against GOSA and the nine individuals.

Lead attorney for the defendants in the appellate proceedings was Elizabeth Leamon, then of the New Haven firm of Tyler, Cooper & Alcorn, with Ben Solnit, a Tyler-Cooper partner, contributing to the brief. (Atty. Leamon now is associated with Murtha Cullina LLP in Guilford.) Gerald A. Cory of New London appeared for F.L. Merritt.

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Statement By Nelson Merritt On The Merritt Family Forest

GROTON — Nelson A. Merritt, president of F.L. Merritt Inc., made this statement at the signing May 16, 2008, of paperwork that created The Merritt Family Forest:

Our grandfather, Francis E. Merritt, who was born in Ledyard in 1835, bought the Fort Hill Farm in 1868. The son, Francis L. Merritt, was born shortly after the family moved in that year. Our grandmother, Abbie Crouch Merritt, and our mother, Althea Montgomery Merritt, loved the farm, especially the forest with its numerous deer and other animals.

While the land was generally used for grazing young cattle in its open spaces, other uses came up now and then. There were originally two or three houses there during colonial times, probably for tenant farmers. One of them was located above the inner brook and along the original road that ran from what is now Flanders Road through the woods to the farmhouse on the top of Fort Hill. Also along that road are the remains of an old grist mill. During the Civil War, ribs for wooden warships built at the Noank Shipyard came from the great limbs of oak trees and paneling for the cabins from red cedars that grew in abundance. During World War II a pasture lot of ten acres or so along Fishtown Road was plowed and turned into victory gardens for a score or more of Noank residents.

The farm and the Merritt generations were a part of Noank. Francis L. Merritt and his four sisters went to the old one-room school on the top of Brook Street hill before he met our mother Althea Montgomery. Their seven children went to the two-story school on Main Street.

It is wonderful that GOSA, with the assistance of the State of Connecticut, has found the way to preserve this forest primeval for all future generations and for all time.

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Remarks by Sidney Van Zandt at Merritt Bench Dedication

Welcome to you all: To the Merritts, Nelson, his daughters Susan, Nancy, and Debra, to Tom & Hannah Treuer and John & Carly Matroienni.

I hope to introduce you to some of the folks that were able to be here today that have been involved in GOSA, and who have done so much to transform this beautiful place.

I would like to lay praise on our President Joan Smith who was very active in GOSA’s intervening in the developers plans for this place. But most important she created the massive collection of documents that made up the grant application to the Department of Environmental Protection. This was particularly difficult as the developers with an option on the land would not allow us access until we owned the land on May 16, 2008. The winning of that grant then allowed us to move forward in what ended up being over five years of legal activities, but we finally wore them down.

Whitney Adams, a Director of GOSA, began hacking away at this former victory garden turned invasive jungle. He is such a pied piper and it wasn’t long before he met Charlie Boos exploring the Merritt (who is now also a GOSA Director), and the two of them began work added to by Si Borys from across the Street, new Director Rebecca Brewer, Betsy Maltby, Jim Hansen, and so many others.

Very important to this program is Adrienne Loweth who was working on a WHIP grant over in the City of Groton. She helped us get the forms filled, got contacts with only a week left to apply. We were lucky as we got a 3-year grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) of the Department of Agriculture called WHIP (Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program). The expert we hired to oversee the project was Charlie Boos and the NRCS person is Fernando Rincon. (Fernando is also overseeing a 5 year WHIP program we have just been awarded at the Sheep Farm that we acquired early this year.) The number of volunteer hours that many of us have put in to transform this field have been huge.

Also here are Tim and Kate Pratt whose Mother, Priscilla, our late GOSA President, lead us so diligently through over 8 years of endeavoring to Save this land from being clear cut and filled with up to 79 houses. Sarah Holmes of the Univ. of Connecticut, Avery Point has begun research of history of this land with her students.

Syma Ebbin, another Board member is here. Elected officials Senator Andrew Maynard and Representative, Ellisa Wright have given us support through all these many years of ongoing efforts. Fred and Eleanor Fischer worked magic as they contacted Foundations to help us in our fundraising efforts.

In closing I’d like to mention a young gal named Miquelle from Pawcatuck who instead of receiving birthday presents wanted to help a conservation project. She came here early on in the project one sunny afternoon with her one year old in a frame on her back and watched Whitney and Charlie demonstrate some of the new tools we had just purchased. Joan was over under those trees clearing cut piles. “You know” she said, “YOU COULD REALLY MAKE A DIFFERENCE HERE!” So a few weeks later about 15 additional people joined our stewardship group- her parents, her friends and the little son on her back. She brought and set up two large tables. One had food and beverage, the other had information and maps, and forms, and sign-up sheets. They all then set to work pulling up and clipping, and moving piles.

I have an e-mail from Jim Furlong, our former director who was a very important part of the many years of activity and negotiations and particularly with getting this bench installed. He said:

From Jim Furlong on October 2, 2011

Hello Mr. Merritt,

I am pleased that the bench, long in planning and construction, will be dedicated soon. It is well built, with the two supports fixed by:

– – indentation into the underside of the bench slab
– – connecting rods
– – epoxy adhesives.

The supports were deeply embedded in cement-filled holes in the ground long before the bench was installed.
The bench should last into the foreseable future.

Just for your information, I stepped down as a director of GOSA on August 1 in order to pursue private projects, and will not be able to attend the dedication because of associated commitments. However, I feel deep satisfaction that this capstone of The Merritt Family Forest preservation finally has been put into place and is being celebrated.

GOSA and F.L. Merritt Inc. had a long struggle after you told me at 7:30 AM on March 22, 2003*, that you had “decided to go with” GOSA. Ultimate victory would not have been possible without your steadfastness throughout the nearly five-year legal dispute that followed. It has been a pleasure to work with you.

GOSA Vice-President, Sidney Van Zandt, who played the lead role in private fund-raising for the acquisition, is organizing the dedication, as you know. It is logical that she should be your “go-to” person at GOSA in the event of questions or problems in the future. I always will take a strong personal interest in the property, of course.

All the best,

Jim Furlong

* on March 22, 2003 Mary Merritt had a heart attack. It was at that time in the hospital that the Merritts decided “to go with GOSA” to save the forest rather than have the woodland clear cut and filled with houses. (comments S Van Zandt)

We also have put together a booklet that includes the photos, and trail map, provided by Whitney as well as a list of flora by Whitney, Charlie, and others of the stewardship committee. There is a list of birds sighted. There is a history by Nelson that you put together for us. The cover map provided for us by Rusty Warner, tells the story of the importance of The Merritt Family Forest because it is the “Keystone” for connecting the greenbelt in our town.

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Nelson Merritt’s Memories Of Farm Life Added To Website; Career Also Described

GROTON — The GOSA website has posted a 1,500-word article by Nelson Merritt about the Fort Hill Farm where he grew up, a 75-acre portion of which now is The Merritt Family Forest. Also added to the website is a newspaper article describing Mr. Merritt’s remarkable post-farm career as an engineer with significant achievements in submarines, aviation, and outer space.

Nelson A. Merritt

Nelson A. Merritt

His account begins: Mr. Merritt, who was president of the family firm of F.L. Merritt Inc. when it sold the tract to GOSA in 2008, covers the history and geography of the land, along with his family’s ownership and farming of it starting in the mid-1800s. Mr. Merritt wrote the article this year.

The farm that I was born and raised on was called Fort Hill Farm, thus named because it was located on the very site of the original fort of the Indian Chief Sassacus, the ruling chief of the Mashantucket Pequot Indians.  The farm itself was around 270 acres, one of the rather large ones in eastern Connecticut.” Links to both articles are included in the Merritt section that appears on the right side of each page directly under the headline “GOSA In-Depth.”   Direct link to farm article.

The news article — from the Danbury News-Times — tells of Mr. Merritt’s involvement with the Nautilus submarine, air traffic controls systems, and the Apollo moon mission.

It begins:

DANBURY — Nelson Merritt got the assignment of his life in 1963 — to help design a flight simulator to help astronauts train to fly to the moon.

The tricky part was this: The spacecraft, called the Apollo, only existed as a name.  Direct link.

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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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The Day Urges Public To Pitch In On Merritt Fund

NEW LONDON — The Day urged in an editorial Jan. 17, 2008, that supporters of open space contribute to a GOSA fund to help acquire the 75-acre Merritt Property atop Fort Hill.

Following is the editorial:

The 75-acre Merritt property in Groton is a densely wooded tract with rolling hills, a pond and moss-covered stone walls that serve as vestiges of its agrarian roots.The land, like so much other open space in the region, is adjacent to an extensive residential development — and until last week it appeared it would undergo the same, all-too-familiar transformation from forest to housing.

But after five years of litigation, the Groton Open Space Association (GOSA) finally was able to declare victory when a developer that wanted to build 48 single-family homes bowed to a state Appellate Court ruling and decided to give up its claim to buy the property atop Fort Hill just west of Fishtown Road.

“We won!” Sidney F. Van Zandt, director of the open-space organization, trumpeted earlier this week.

But the fight to save the land — which serves as a key link in a greenbelt that runs through Bluff Point Coastal Reserve, Haley Farm State Park, the Mortimer D. Wright Preserve, Avalonia Land Trust property and Beebe Pond Park — is far from over.

Now GOSA, a private, nonprofit, grassroots organization that for more than 30 years has helped preserve such significant open spaces as the Haley Farm and Bluff Point, must raise money to help buy the property, which would become known as The Merritt Family Forest.

Landowner F.L. Merritt Inc. has agreed to sell it for $1 million. GOSA, which already has made a down payment and also secured a $650,000 state grant to apply toward the purchase, has launched a campaign to raise the final $175,000.

We urge all who value open space and recognize the significance of this parcel to pitch in. More information on how to donate is available on the group’s Web site,

“We turn to the citizens of southeastern Connecticut to help us save another piece of green space,” Mrs. Van Zandt said. “Once it is gone, it is gone. We will never have a chance again.”


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GOSA, Merritt Win Final Legal Battle In Contract Dispute

HARTFORD — The Groton Open Space Association and F.L. Merritt Inc. have won the final legal battle in their nearly five-year struggle to allow GOSA to purchase the 75-acre Merritt property on Fort Hill and preserve it as public open space, it was verified Jan. 9, 2008.

Lawyers for the Cheshire developer Ravenswood Construction LLC said the company hasn’t filed and didn’t intend to file an appeal of a crucial Appellate Court decision last month. That decision upheld a New London Superior Court jury dismissal in May 2005 of Ravenswood’s claim to have a contract to buy the land–a contract that Ravenswood contended pre-dated GOSA’s contract.

Ravenswood had 20 days to appeal following formal publication of the Appellate Court ruling Dec. 18. The developer could have applied to the Supreme Court for a review of the Appellate Court decision. The high court normally takes one to three months to decide on such applications. A review, if one had been granted, could have required more than a year to be completed.

GOSA signed a contract April 14, 2003, to buy the property from Merritt. The next day, Ravenswood asserted its claim of a prior contract, filed suit and placed a legal hold on the land. That began the lengthy legal battle through the Superior Court and then the Appellate Court that now has ended.

The struggle included a SLAPP suit filed by Ravenswood and Mystic Estates Partners of New London against GOSA and nine individuals accusing them of contractual interference and abuse of the legal process. The suit against GOSA — SLAPP stands for “Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation” — was dropped hastily in July, 2003. At the time, Groton Atty. Paulann H. Sheets, acting for GOSA, noted that state Atty. Gen. Richard Blumenthal and the Connecticut Fund for the Environment had been about to announce their intention to support GOSA in court when the suit was withdrawn.

Shortly before signing the contract, GOSA had won a $650,000 grant from the state Department of Environmental Protection toward the $1 million purchase price. The closing is to take place upon payment of the grant, which had been held up only by the legal block placed on the land by Ravenswood. The Merritt property stretches along the south side of Route 1 between the summit of Fort Hill and Fishtown Road.

GOSA President Priscilla Pratt said GOSA would move quickly to close. The property, to be preserved for passive recreation, will be known as The Merritt Family Forest.

Lead lawyer for the defendants was Elizabeth Leamon, of the New Haven firm of Tyler, Cooper & Alcorn. Other defense attorneys were Gerald A. Cory of New London and, on the brief, Ben A. Solnit, a partner at Tyler-Cooper.

Attorney William Kroll of Salem represented F.L. Merritt during the jury trial. Lawyer for GOSA was William Hescock of North Stonington.

Representing the plaintiff Ravenswood were Paul M. Geraghty and Michael S. Bonnano of New London and James M. Miele of Cheshire.

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