Candlewood Ridge: A Jewel in Nature’s Crown

GOSA is delighted to report that in the spring of 2012 we signed a purchase of sale agreement with the owner of a 91-acre property in the Candlewood Ridge area of Groton/Mystic near Ledyard.

Candlewood Ridge is a jewel of a property, a rare bit of wilderness in our town. Rich upland forest, deep peat sphagnum-covered wetland forests and open tussock sedge marsh are flourishing there. This land has multiple streams which form complex wetlands that flow into Haley Brook and on into the Mystic River and Fishers Island Sound. GOSA explored this land as a potential open space acquisition after hearing numerous accounts of its unusually rich wildlife.

We had heard there were turtles and had seen a number of spotted turtles from Lambtown Road, a great viewing platform. The local residents call the turtles “sunnies” for their yellow spots; it is the same species David Carroll spoke about at GOSA’s 2009 annual meeting. Candlewood Ridge has the type of clump-grass marsh called tussock sedge these turtles love to call home. It’s a place to burrow into for the winter and a breeding place in the spring.  Resident beavers help to keep the water high.  We confirmed this area has extraordinary habitat with an abundance of species, and we found the land a pleasure to explore.

The Candlewood Ridge stream system is a nursery for many fish species such as banded sunfish [Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CT DEEP) species of special concern], American eel, alewife, chain and redfin pickerel, common and golden shiner, creek chubsucker and pumpkin seed. In addition, shorebirds like great egrets (CT DEEP threatened species), great blue heron and osprey all enjoy this remote and wild land.

We went with our scientists into the deep inner wetlands and found remarkable plant species:  lots of cranberries, insect-eating sundews, and everywhere great habitat for wildlife.  Using a soil auger, we pulled up soil samples from the wetlands and to our surprise, we found deep peat, which takes thousands of years to form. Because of its rarity, peat ecosystems are designated critical habitat by the DEEP. Candlewood Ridge has approximately 15 acres of peat forest and 15 acres of open peat bog.

As you drive north on Lambtown Road into Ledyard, Candlewood Ridge is part of a larger ecosystem which has made it a birding hot spot as well as a great place to see a variety of turtles.  It is also one of few places with a habitat that is supporting a healthy population of New England cottontails. The U.S. government provides grants targeting the shrubby habitat the endangered bunnies and birds need. GOSA plans to restore about 10 acres of the Candlewood Ridge area to encourage the bunnies and the 47 other species at risk.  This relatively flat area should eventually be accessible to everyone to enjoy by foot.

In June 2013,  GOSA acquired Candlewood Ridge and GOSA volunteers are currently in the process of restoring a previously cleared area to early successional habitat with the help of two government grants. GOSA always welcomes the donation of time and/or treasure to assist with these activities.

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