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Located in the ancestral homeland of the Western Nehântick and Mohegan people
Home to diverse wildlife, plant communities, wetland resources and topography, the Niantic River Headwaters Community Forest is part of a larger 2,200-acre forest block in East Lyme and Waterford. This significant area of forested corridor is comprised of approximately twenty parcels, mostly privately owned. Niantic River Headwaters Community Forest conserves nearly one-tenth of this forested habitat.
Visitors can enjoy an excellent loop trail as they explore this unique forestland—its dramatic stone ridge is a particular highlight.
Niantic River Headwaters Community Forest is located in coastal Connecticut, and its name is quite literal: a portion of the Niantic River’s headwaters are located on the property. Within a stretch of about four miles, the headwaters travel from NEFF’s forest through the Niantic River and Niantic Bay to reach the ocean.
NEFF conserves its Community Forests through ownership, and they are open daily, free to visit, and offer outdoor recreation opportunities. Unlike NEFF’s Community Forests, land protected by NEFF conservation easements—a legal tool—aren’t open to visitors unless their owners explicitly state so, because many belong to private individuals.
NEFF uses easements to conserve land owned by others. When a landowner grants NEFF an easement, it means they have permanently donated or sold to NEFF the landowner’s right to develop their own property, while the landowner otherwise retains ownership of their land; NEFF ensures the easements’ terms are met and enforced.
NEFF completed conservation of Niantic River Headwaters Community Forest in 2019 as part of a larger movement to protect the health of the Niantic River estuary. Its conservation ensures that water flowing from a portion of the headwaters will continue to be filtered—and therefore kept clean—by the forest and natural wetland habitat as it flows toward the estuary.
Conserving the Niantic River Headwaters Community Forest is consistent with the State of Connecticut Green Plan, the plans of Conservation and Development of Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments (SCOOG), and the town of East Lyme. The conservation project received letters of support from The Niantic River Watershed Committee, and East Lyme’s Board of Selectmen, Commission for the Conservation of Natural Resources, and Inland Wetlands Agency and Planning Commission.
Grassroots support for the project originated from an unexpected place—the previous property owner and local developer, Steve Harney. Harney provided a discounted sale price and was extremely helpful to efforts to rally town, state DEEP, and United States Forest Service support for the project.
The project was awarded DEEP Open Space Grant funds and a grant from the US Forest Service’s Community Forest program, and private support came from the Geoffrey C. Hughes Foundation, Bafflin Foundation, Ruth Lord Charitable Trust, Summer Hill Foundation, the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut, the Fields Pond Foundation and the Sasco Foundation. Several local families and individuals also contributed to the $1.7 million campaign to conserve the 200-acre property.
Want to head out and explore? Our interactive map of all NEFF Community Forests will help you get on your way. It provides property-specific trail maps you can download, as well information about each forest’s history, recreational opportunities, natural features, and more.