About Us

Groton Open Space Association, Inc.  

Advocating for land, water,  and wildlife in Southeastern Connecticut        

Founded 1967  –  Incorporated 1996                                                                                                                                    

CR gorgeous landscape imageMission and Purpose

To establish an association of persons interested in conservation, environmental preservation, open space and recreational areas in Southeastern Connecticut.

To educate the public about the value of open space, conservation and environmental preservation.

ibis at HFTo enlist public support and funding 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, exempt from federal income tax under IRS Section 501 (c) (3) or the corresponding section of any future federal tax code.

Member of The Land Trust Alliance since 2014

The Land Trust Alliance requires that member land trusts adopt Land Trust Standards and Practices as the guiding principles for their operations, indicating their commitment to upholding the public trust and the credibility of the land trust community as a whole. The Land Trust Alliance encourages all land trusts to implement Land Trust Standards and Practices at a pace appropriate for the size of the organization and scope of its conservation activities.


The membership of the organization is open to any person or organization subscribing to the objectives of GOSA and who is willing to contribute toward its success. Annual dues, established by the Board of Directors, are currently $25 for individuals per year, $30 for families, and $100 for businesses. Membership inquiries can be directed to:
Groton Open Space Association
P.O. Box 9187
Groton, CT 06340-9187

E-mail: gosamail@gmail.com

Go to the Join Us section for more membership information and click here to donate.

Board of Directors

The Board of Directors consists of not less than five and not more than twelve persons elected by the membership at the annual meeting.  The Board of Directors generally meets monthly but no fewer than ten times a year.

Meet Our Directors

Joan Smith, President  

Joan SmithBOD member since 2000, President since 2008

B.A., Connecticut College for Women; B.S., Cornell University; M.S., Georgetown University

Joan grew up roaming in the fields and forest of her maternal grandfather’s farm in West Boylston, Mass., where she learned to experience and appreciate nature. Family outings included hiking, skiing, fishing, swimming, kayaking and camping in Cape Cod, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Canada. Her paternal grandmother, president of the Thoreau and Concord Historic Societies, led a successful effort to save Walden Pond, Joan’s first glimpse at successful grassroots environmental activism. Future mentors included three professors at Connecticut College: Dr. William Niering and  Dr. Richard Goodwin, founders of the Nature Conservancy, and Dr. Sally Taylor who continues to be active with Connecticut Forest & Park Association. For GOSA, Joan has authored four successful state grant applications, totaling more than $1,600,000 for land purchase. Joan also authored many of GOSA’s letters of intervention and position statements seeking prudent and feasible alternatives to potential environmentally harmful development projects. Joan’s main focus now is to build up a board of strong directors and volunteers who will provide sound governance, land management, environmental advocacy and educational programs well into the future.

Sidney Van Zandt, Vice President   

GOSA Vice President Sidney F. Van ZandtFounder of GOSA in 1965, Vice President since 2009

Graduate of Choate-Rosemary Hall and Colby Sawyer College

Sidney spent her youth exploring the woodlands of the Mianus River Gorge Preserve in Bedford, N.Y., the first property purchased by the Nature Conservancy in 1954.  She and her husband, Sandy, and son, Doug, moved to Noank in 1961 and formed Van Zandt Sails in 1962. Plans to develop Haley Farm into a duplex housing complex in 1963 instigated her involvement in the battle to “Save the Haley Farm” and the formation of the Groton Open Space Association in 1965; she became its first president. In 1970 Haley Farm was saved, becoming Haley Farm State Park, thanks to the efforts of GOSA and the Connecticut Forest & Park Association. That same year, she and UConn Avery Point professor, David McKain, formed the Environmental Education Committee which planned and sponsored the first Earth Day and recycling programs in Groton. They also published an environmental teaching guide for the Groton school system. Since then, she has been involved with GOSA’s purchases of the 75-acre Merritt Family Forest in 2008, the 63-acre Sheep Farm in 2010, the 91-acre Candlewood Ridge in 2013, and the 305-acre Avery Farm in 2015.

Sidney has served the open space movement in numerous capacities. In 1972 she was appointed co-chairperson of the Bluff Point Advisory Council and tasked with finding the “highest and best use” of Bluff Point (saved in 1974) and has served on the boards of the Connecticut Forest and Park Association (1969), the Governor’s Council on Environmental Quality, the Connecticut DEEP’s Coastal Management Program, and the Eight-Town Mashantucket Land Trust (now called Avalonia Land Conservancy). All have benefited from her passionate work to preserve and protect open space and the Groton watershed.

In 1981 she resigned from her many positions to join her husband on an open-space adventure of another kind. They built a 39′ steel sailing vessel in Virginia and after three transatlantic passages,  a circumnavigation, 56 countries, and 15 years on board, they returned to Noank. Sidney resumed her activities on the GOSA board in 2003 as a director, became a member of the Drinking Water Quality Management Plan (DWQMP) and the Shellfish Taskforce, was elected vice-president of the GOSA board, and reelected to the board of the Connecticut Forest & Park Association as an honorary director.

Sidney received numerous awards in 2014. On March 15, the Connecticut Land Conservation Council awarded the 2014 “Katchen Coley Award for Excellence in Conservation” to Sidney for her decades of outstanding service to the conservation movement. That same day, United States Senator Richard Blumenthal strode to the podium and awarded Sidney a “Certificate of Special Recognition.” One week later, at her 80th birthday celebration, Connecticut General Assembly members Senator Andrew Maynard and Representative Elissa Wright presented Sidney with an “Official Citation.” Again, on Thursday, June 19 in the Old Judiciary Room at the Capitol, Sidney received a Women Inspiring Conservation Award for her “outstanding leadership in the environmental conservation movement since 1967.”


David Olivier, Interim Treasurer

BOD member since 2015 

B.S., University of Virginia, in Nuclear Engineering; M.S., Naval Postgraduate School, Oceanography; M.S., Naval Postgraduate School, Meteorology; M.A., Naval War College, National Security and Strategic Studies

After graduating from U.Va, Dave obtained a commission as a Naval Officer through the N.R.O.T.C program and started his career as a submarine officer. After nearly 30 years of service, including command of U.S.S. BOSTON (SSN 703) and SUBMARINE NR-1, he retired and is now working for the government as a Navy civilian employee at the Supervisor of Shipbuilding in Groton, helping to oversee the construction and repair of our most modern submarines at Electric Boat.

Dave, a “navy brat,” grew up across the country but always had a keen interest in the outdoors, hiking, and exploring. Finally settling for a long period in Groton, he greatly enjoyed the many recreational opportunities in the area. As a survivor of seven marathons and the many miles put into preparing for them, he spent considerable time on the trails at Haley Farm and Bluff Point State Parks.

Dave became involved with GOSA in 2006 working to help raise funds and knowledge to challenge a major development proposal in the woodlands to the north of Fort Hill. It was clear that the developers were not always as sensitive as possible to woodlands, wetlands and potential harm to streams and tributaries flowing into Long Island Sound.  Additionally, it was not clear that the use of the property for development was necessarily in the best interest of the overall population.

Dave is looking forward to increasing involvement with GOSA as retirement approaches and more time can be applied to this important endeavor.

Pat Olivier, Secretary

BOD member since 2013, Secretary since 2013

B.A., George Washington University

Pat was born in Beverly, Ma. and is married to a retired Navy Submarine Officer. She has lived in Virginia, California, Washington State, and Connecticut, where they have since retired.  Living in Groton since 1993, she worked for Groton Public Schools in various positions for 16 years. Pat became involved with GOSA in 2006 in response to the proposed development of Mystic Woods. That land, located at the top of Fort Hill, abuts the Sheep Farm and is rich with wetlands, vernal pools, and a portion of Fort Hill Brook which runs directly into Mumford Cove. As an abutter she, other abutters, neighbors and friends formed a group called Friends of Fort Hill and worked alongside GOSA to moderate the impact of that development. To help defray the costs associated with that undertaking, the group sponsored fundraising events, including a cocktail gathering at the Cutwater Gallery that the following year became the now annual GOSA Gala, which Pat continues to chair.

Whitney Adams, Director

Whitney Adams2

BOD member since 2009, GOSA botanist

Joint Chemistry-Biology B.A., University of Delaware; M.S. in Natural Sciences, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Whitney has always been fascinated by the plant world.  As he grew up, he marveled at the diversity of plants along the east coast from upstate New York to Florida and, more recently, the rich coastal forests of Connecticut.  

His interests led him to pursue a joint B.A. major in chemistry and biology from the University of Delaware, and an M.S. in natural sciences from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.  He has worked in biochemical research at the Yale Biology Department, Pfizer Central Research in Groton, Dekalb Genetics in Mystic and Monsanto in Mystic until retirement in 2009.

Whitney began working with GOSA in 2004 and became a board member in 2009. He has done extensive field work on GOSA’s properties identifying plants and assembling extensive plant lists. He is also a member of the Connecticut Botanical Society.  

Jim Anderson, Director

Jim Anderson Dr. BittersweetBOD member since 2012, Chair of Finance Committee, self-appointed Director of Bittersweet Elimination since 2011

B.S., Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Physics; M.S., University of Connecticut, Geology;  Ph.D., University  of Connecticut, X-Ray Crystallography.

Jim returned to western Connecticut at the age of 16, his father bought two acres of woodland in back of their house, a chainsaw was purchased, and he has been chainsawing ever since. He first encountered  an invasive species—pachysandra—growing as ground cover in his parent’s yard.  Trimmings were dumped in the woods and they resprouted; after 45 years, they have taken over much of the undergrowth of the two acres.  Nothing native seemed to want to eat the pachysandra.

After graduate school Jim started a career in technology finance, and ended up at Travelers Insurance in Hartford managing a venture capital program for 10 years.  Due to the long commute and the heavy business travel, he didn’t pay much attention to the acres behind his neighbor’s house bordering Allyn Street in Mystic.  After starting his own consulting business and a stint as an adjunct professor at UConn, he noticed that vines had begun to overcome the trees between his deck and Allyn Street, 150 yards away.  He approached his neighbor suggesting that he try to preserve the woods by eliminating the bittersweet vines.  She agreed, and a five-year winter project (why winter? winter has no ticks and golf in the summer was a higher priority) started in 2005.  By 2010, the impenetrable area was completely cleared and he started to get bored.

In May 2011, he attended GOSA’s gala and met members of the GOSA team who declared, “We have acres and acres of bittersweet!”  The rest is history,  much to the regret of bittersweet in Groton.

Syma Alexi Ebbin, Director


GOSA BOD member since 2008, GOSA Educational and Outreach Liaison

B.A., Williams College, Biology; M.S., University of Alaska, Fisheries Science; M.E.M., Yale University, Environmental Management (EM); M.S., Yale University, EM; M.Ph., Yale University, EM.; Ph.D., Yale University, EM; Post Doctoral, Dartmouth College, Institutional Dimensions of Global Environmental Change

Affiliation and Current Position: Research Coordinator, Connecticut Sea Grant and Associate Professor in Residence, Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of Connecticut

Syma grew up in New York City, traveling each day from Staten Island to Manhattan by ferry to attend Stuyvesant High School, where she focused on math and science.  Vacations were spent at her grandfather’s house, exploring the waters of Baker Cove and Pine Island Bay in Groton or backpacking along the Appalachian and Long trails with her school friends.  After college, she relocated to Juneau, Alaska, to attend graduate school and study Pacific salmon management.  After receiving her doctorate at Yale’s Department of Forestry and Environmental Studies, she served as the open-space coordinator for the Connecticut Fund for the Environment.  As luck would have it, she now lives a few hundred feet from her grandfather’s house in Groton and works across Pine Island Bay at the University of Connecticut’s Avery Point campus. She teaches environmental and marine science and policy courses, serves as the faculty advisor for the EcoHusky Club, and coordinates Connecticut Sea Grant’s research program.  In 2008, Syma was appointed by the governor to the Eastern Long Island Sound Council and in 2011 elected co-chair of the Long Island Sound Assembly. She is currently serving on Groton’s Energy Efficiency and Conservation Committee and previously as vice-chair of the Climate Change and Sustainable Community Task Force, the City’s Conservation and Inland Wetlands Agency and Harbor Management Commission. Syma and her family enjoy hiking, cross-country skiing, swimming, and kayaking in Groton and even farther afield.


MarieOlsenMarie Olson, Director

GOSA Board Member since 2013

B.S. in Nursing, University of Rhode Island

Marie was born in the small town of Scotia, Calif., in the heart of the California redwoods and grew up in rural Dutchess County, New York, enjoying nature and the outdoors. She also spent many summers working in Rhode Island and enjoying the ocean and sandy beaches. After graduating from college, she worked in various positions as a registered nurse at Westerly Hospital, R.I., as a visiting nurse for Kent County, R.I., and also for Norwich State Hospital, in Connecticut.

In 1982, Marie married a naval officer and moved to Newport News, Va., and then Charleston, S.C. where she worked for the Low Country Red Cross. She then took time off to start a family. Her son was born in Fort Ord, Ca., and her daughter in Fort Belvoir, Va. Marie, her husband, and children moved to Ledyard in 1990 where she became an active volunteer. She held positions on the Ledyard Library Friends, the Ledyard Public Health Commission, the Bill Library Association, the Ledyard schools, and the Ledyard Congregational Church. Returning to the workforce in 1995, Marie worked for various healthcare facilities in Southeast Ct. as a clinical liaison. 

In July of 2013, Marie chose to leave the workforce to pursue her passion for nature and the outdoors. She hopes future generations will experience the wonders of our natural surroundings and the freedom of open space.

Anne Roberts-Pierson, Director

GOSA Board member since 2015IM000698.JPG

Anne grew up in rural northeastern Connecticut and graduated from UCONN with a major in French and Italian. She is a former Peace Corps volunteer (Zaire) and enjoyed one tour as a U.S. Navy radioman at the U.S. Submarine Base, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Marriage to a fellow U.S. Navy career sailor expanded her world tour to the Mediterranean (Sardinia, Italy) and beyond. The Piersons have been Ledyard residents for the past 17 years. Her work experiences, eclectic to be sure, include being a medical transcriptionist at Lawrence & Memorial Hospital, one of her favorites for many years.

She is a 20-year member of Avalonia Land Conservancy, Inc., serving eight years on the Board, including President 2008-2011. She presently serves as Vice-Chair of the Board of Eastern Ct Conservation District. Land preservation, natural resource conservation, and historic preservation are all very important to her. She hopes to be of some service to GOSA in the next few years and is pleased to have this opportunity to be part of such a successful conservation organization.

Rob Scialabba, Director


B.S. in Psychology, Fordham University; M.S.W., Smith College School for Social Work

Rob was born and raised in the New Haven, CT area and moved to Ledyard with his wife, Jean, in 1979.  In the past 35 years on their four acre farm, they have raised sheep, pigs, chickens, ducks and assorted pets.  His occupation is a social worker, but his vocation has always been to be a farmer.

Rob is almost retired as a social worker, working occasionally at Backus Hospital.  He is also retired from the State of Connecticut, Dept. of Mental Health.  Currently, he serves as a volunteer EMT for the town of Ledyard and volunteers at the Mystic Aquarium in the seal rescue center.

Preserving open space for future generations has been an ongoing passion, and he is happy to serve on the GOSA Board.

Lon Thompson, Director

BOD member since 2013

B.S., University of Connecticut, in Agricultural Economics

Lon, a Mystic native, grew up hiking and wandering the woods of Groton and Ledyard. His father introduced him to the rigor of chainsawing early on and his mother, a Whittle, insured he put his time in “on the farm.” These experiences instilled an appreciation for the outdoors and value of open space while also exposing him to the work involved in being a good custodian of the land.

After graduating from UConn, Lon entered federal government service and traveled widely working for a number of agencies before settling back in Mystic in 1982. His government work, currently in information technology with Navy Medicine, is definitely indoor work (though some would argue the plants in his office blur the line) which increases the satisfaction he gets working outside with GOSA.

Lon’s first encounter volunteering with GOSA was through recruitment by the self-appointed Director of Bittersweet Elimination, Dr. Jim Anderson. Jim showed him some of the largest vines imaginable and certainly the first he had ever seen that required a chainsaw to conquer! Since then he has been working to specialize in remediating widow-maker tree damage, of which there seems to be an endless supply.

Lon is looking forward to an increasing involvement with GOSA as retirement approaches and time OUTDOORS exceeds the day job work indoors.