Since being formed in the late 1960s, GOSA has worked hard to save beautiful places and wildlife habitats in Groton.
The organization and its members played key parts in saving, enlarging and caring for HaleyFarm; in protecting Bluff Point from a host of development schemes; and in acquiring The Merritt Family Forest. In December, 2010, GOSA purchased the 63-acre Sheep Farm on Hazelnut Hill Road, site of Groton’s highest waterfall. GOSA is in the process of acquiring a 91-acre plot of land with extraordinary attributes in north Groton.
GOSA also was a vigorous backer of the 1988 Town of Groton open space bond issue that resulted in $6 million in land acquisition.
The association has repeatedly urged the town to heed recommendations of the Groton Plan of Conservation and Development for creation of a town-wide open space acquisition plan.
In addition to campaigning for open space, GOSA has devoted thousands of hours to monitoring meetings of town land-use commissions and the Town Council in order to oppose unwise development proposals and to mitigate the environmental impacts of others. GOSA has promoted good land-use regulations, including a townwide ordinance that requires developers to pay for independent outside expert opinion on complex applications. We supported proposals in 2007 for the creation of some mixed-use zones. However, we opposed their extensive proliferation and helped limit the number of areas in which they are currently allowed. As of early 2010, we are closely watching proposals for a rewrite of Groton’s land-use regulations.
When necessary, we have gone to court to oppose destructive land uses. We also have worked cooperatively with developers to help make their projects more environmentally friendly, for example in the case of the housing development built off Route 184 near Great Brook, a major drinking water supply artery. In pursuing our goals, we have consulted with biologists, engineers, archeologists, lawyers and other experts.
GOSA has been patient and persistent. We worked for more than three decades to help get Haley Farm enlarged from an original 198 acres to the current 257. We stuck with a nearly five-year legal dispute before finally winning a state Appellate Court ruling that upheld our contract to acquire The Merritt Family Forest. GOSA closed on the $1 million tract, purchased with help of a $650,000 state grant, in May 2008. Public contributions have provided the remainder of the purchase funds needed, plus legal fees and money for a maintenance endowment.
A View From Outside, and Additional Information
GOSA began as the Save the Haley Farm Committee, active in the late 1960s. The following account, taken from Connecticut State Park Observer (published by Friends of Connecticut State Parks), Spring 2000, describes GOSA’s role in the effort to preserve Haley Farm: A Brief History: Heroic Efforts Highlight History of Haley Farm and Bluff Point
Many among the thousands who visit Haley Farm and Bluff Point Reserve annually are unaware of the efforts and determination that led to the formation of these state parks.
Haley Farm The preservation of Haley Farm was the result of an agreement–if private funds of $50,000 were donated to the State, it would provide the rest of the money and purchase Haley Farm. Accepting the challenge, the Save the Haley Farm Committee initiated a whirlwind of fund raising activities. Their blitz included brochures, TV and radio talk show appearances, newspaper articles, suppers, bake sales, and a rock concert. In 1970, the drive went over the top and Haley Farm became the states newest park, dedicated to passive recreational uses.arm was being considered for apartment and housing development and Bluff Point was being examined for highly developed recreational purposes. A group of citizens led by Sidney Van Zandt [GOSA's first president] vowed to keep these two unspoiled coastal areas in their natural state for future generations.
Today, Haley Farm remains under the watchful eye of the Groton Open Space Association, advocates for Haley Farm and Bluff Point State Parks. Annual clean-up days are held, the fields are mowed, and park improvements are reviewed to ensure that restoration or maintenance is done with indigenous material that conforms to the original farm conditions.
Bluff Point In the 1960s the state owned a portion of the point and planned a fully developed park with a major access road, paved parking lots, filled in marshes, and pavilions. A special advisory council (the Bluff Point Advisory Council), composed of representatives from government and citizen groups established to review the plan, urged the state to acquire the rest of Bluff Point. When this was done, the council determined the best use of the 778-acre parcel would be a coastal reserve, modeled after the coastal reserves of California.
In 1975, the Bluff Point Coastal Reserve Act was passed, granting the area the highest possible protection in the state park system. Later, when another issue arose, the council, Sidney Van Zandt, and other concerned citizens rallied to successfully defend the reserve from the proposed construction of a sewer outfall pipe that would span its entire length.
Nearly 200,000 people visited Bluff Point in 1998. Haley Farm and Bluff Point will soon be connected by a pedestrian bridge spanning the railroad tracks. [The bridge has been completed since this account was written.] The parks exist because there were individuals who cared.
The Merritt Family Forest
In May 2008, the Groton Open Space Association closed on the 76-acre Merritt property on Fort Hill. The acquisition climaxed a seven-year effort. It began with opposition to a proposed 79-house subdivision and led to GOSA signing a contract in April 2003 to buy the property for $1 million with the aid of a state grant. A nearly five-year court battle ensued with a developer who claimed to have a previous contract. In January 2008, the developer decided not to appeal a State Appellate Court decision that in effect upheld GOSA’s contract.
Haley Farm State Park Maintenance Fund: Mowing of the Fields
Fundraising to save Haley Farm exceeded the amount required to meet a state challenge to acquire the land. The surplus was used to create the Haley Farm Maintenance Fund. Interest from this fund is used to pay the Crowleys, a farming family from Stonington, to mow the fields every winter. GOSA took on this responsibility in 1987, at a time when state budgets were tight and park maintenance funds were scaled back. Haley Farm State Park is now home to many rare and endangered birds. As many of Connecticut’s farms revert to forest, or become developed, shrub and grassland habitats are becoming scarce. GOSA continues to raise funds to increase the principle of the maintenance fund, in order to continue the practice of mowing.
Cleanup Day at Haley Farm State Park
Every April, GOSA sponsors a clean up day at the Haley Farm State Park. Although many members of GOSA make a habit of picking up litter on a regular basis, an all-out effort is made on this day to find caches of trash hidden behind walls and in the woods. Oftentimes, an old milk bottle dump site and other artifacts from the original farm are found.
Conservation Easement: Little Palmer Cove GOSA was successful before the Groton Town Planning Commission in winning a 100-foot conservation easement to protect Palmer Cove’s waters from a proposed housing subdivision, called Haley Farms Estates, a part of Mumford Cove Association. Helpful to us were Scott Warren, professor at Connecticut College, and salt marsh specialist, Tom Jannke, oysterman, Ron Chapell, Shellfish Commissioner, staff from the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, and many, many other concerned citizens.
Open Space Land Acquisition by the Town of Groton As part of a coalition of conservation groups, GOSA participated in the effort to bring an $8 million bond issue to referendum. In 1988, the citizens of Groton approved issuance of the bond by the Town of Groton, to be used for the purchase of open space lands. Of the total authorization, $6 million was spent. It was used to purchase the Copp property, located north of the Groton Reservoir, land on River Road in Mystic, the Kiley property, located north of the Groton Senior Center, Burrows Field, now known as Poquonnock Plains Park, the Mortimer Wright Nature Preserve, in Noank, and a parcel of the Merritt property, located behind St Mary’s Church.