STONINGTON – Located on Al Harvey Road in northwestern Stonington, 224 acres of undeveloped woodland offers residents and visitors alike the opportunity to hike nature trails and take in the beauty of southern New England. An ongoing effort between local and national agencies hopes to maintain these opportunities for years to come.
The Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national nonprofit conservation organization focused on the conservation of open spaces, is in the middle of a property appraisal slated to complete in the coming weeks after they signed up to buy the property for $ 1 last year , Has committed $ 1 million. The assessment process is a necessary part of an effort that would ultimately result in the property being turned over to the city, Avalonia Land Conservancy, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service for ongoing maintenance and servicing.
If successful, the conservation effort would secure a gateway piece connecting two green walkways that will provide the community with considerable open space continuity, Stonington First Selectman Danielle Chesebrough said in a recent interview.
“We received notice a little over a year ago that this property would be available,” said Chesebnrough. “We have made open space and nature conservation a priority in recent years, and this is an important contribution to maintaining our rural character now and in the future.”
It’s still at the beginning of the process, which will require both state and federal reviews due to the involvement of U.S. fish and wildlife, Chesebrough said. But the project seems to be moving forward in the coming weeks once the evaluation process is complete.
As part of a preliminary plan developed by TPL as part of the acquisition, the nonprofit plans to partner with Avalonia to own and maintain 120 acres of open space. The US Fish and Wildlife Service would take ownership of an additional 102 acres in the northern portion of the parcel that would be incorporated as part of the Great Thicket National Wildlife Refuge.
“Paths traverse both properties, and both facilities prioritize protection and public access for residents and visitors alike,” the US Fish and Wildlife Service said in a press release.
Once evaluations are complete, the agency must conduct its own pre-purchase compatibility study to determine appropriate future uses, including hunting, wildlife watching, photography, fishing, and environmental education. The service has previously acquired land in North Stonington and the northern portion of the Al Harvey Road property would provide continuity, the service said.
Chesebrough said some uses, particularly hunting, remain controversial and raised as concerns by neighbors. She said she hopes those who have concerns will actively participate in the public comment deadline and be addressed before a final plan is approved.
“The US Fish and Wildlife Service will review all options for the use of the property for which it is responsible. This is one aspect of the project that has yet to be discussed, ”she said.
Chesebrough said she sees the acquisition as solid for the city’s future as it would add new outdoor activities when the demand for such recreational opportunities has never been so high. She said that with COVID-19 concerns, even tourists and visitors have expressed an interest in outdoor opportunities.
“This is something that could benefit the community in many ways, and we look forward to exploring this opportunity more,” she said.