Group expands preserved land by 409-acres
NORTH STONINGTON, Conn. (AP) — Get your oxygen on. Get your crampons. No Sherpas today,” shouted Carl Tjerandsen as we made our way through the valley of Brown’s Mountain, close to where the borders of Preston, Griswold and North Stonington meet.
On a recent early spring day, I joined Tjerandsen and Dennis Main, president of the Avalonia Land Conservancy, and Sue Sutherland, the vice president, to explore portions of a 409-acre property known as Tri-Town Ridgeline Forest, the group’s newest and largest acquisition in its 50-year history. The purchase brought Avalonia’s total preserved land in southeastern Connecticut to exactly 4,000 acres.
Making the acquisition even more impressive is the connections it makes to other Avalonia properties in the area, to easements owned by The Nature Conservancy and to the Pachaug State Forest. The grand total? More than 1,000 acres of greenway across the three towns.
According to Avalonia, the forest borders on 76 acres of conservancy-owned open space in Griswold and abuts more than 600 acres of easements held by the Nature Conservancy. A 213-acre section of the Pachaug State forest owned by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection is across the street from Tri-Town, and the 24,000-acre Pachaug connects into Rhode Island’s Nature Conservancy Borderlands Project.
“It was too big. It was too expensive. It was too everything. I never imagined we could acquire it,” Sutherland said.
But with landowner Billy Y. Walker of Dyersburg, Tennessee, selling the property at a bargain price and Avalonia working with the Connecticut Land Conservation Council, the purchase went through in 2016 for $925,000 with the help of a $555,000 grant from the DEEP and bridge loan from the Conservation Fund. That allowed Avalonia to buy the property in a timely manner and then raise the money later.
The group has started marking trails throughout the property and will connect them with an adjoining preserve known as Hidden Pond, a pristine body of water set deep in the woods with a beautiful stone dam and spillway. Large portions of the trail system will follow old woods roads that cross through the parcel.
Main said he has been working with the Connecticut Forest and Parks Association on the potential for connecting to the nearby Blue Blazed Trail system. Those trails are a network of more than 825 miles of paths across the state. He said some people want to hike a few miles and others 10 miles or more.
“We want to tie everything together,” he said. “With 409 acres, there’s room for everybody,” he said.
We passed vernal pools and streams, with the conservancy noting that the forest protects the headwaters of Miller Brook and Broad Brook, which flow into the Quinebaug River, the Shetucket River and eventually the Thames River.
Some of the highlights of the property include a marker with an iron pen with the letters “P″ and “G″ on it denoting where the borders of Preston and Griswold intersect.
One of the most impressive sights is the four miles of stone walls of various shapes and sizes that cross the parcel and travel over hills and ledges. Some can be traced back to the area’s agricultural days, while others could be older, going back to Native Americans, including cairns and “serpent” walls — a line of single stones with a large boulder at the end of it.
As we made our way to the top of Brown’s Mountain, the potential preservation of the area was as clear as the sun peering through the old cedar trees. Before us sprawled miles and miles of unbroken forest — an impressive view within one of the most heavily developed states in the country and one that is protected by a land trust that proved it can set its sights high.
“It really is a missing piece for this huge greenbelt here,” Sutherland said. “That’s why so many people over the years have tried to preserve it and we were quite happy to finally bring it home.”
Information from: Hartford Courant, http://www.courant.com