New England Forestry Foundation announced that it preserved this month the land north of Interstate-95 and near the town’s border with Waterford, land the organization said will be its third “Community Forest” in the state. The foundation also is working to protect an adjacent 34-acre parcel.
NEFF’s Director of Forest Stewardship Chris Pryor said in a phone interview that NEFF will form a stewardship committee with local partners, which could include members of town boards, local land nonprofits and residents, to collaborate on forest management and public recreation aspects of the property. Preliminary meetings could begin in the spring or summer, he said.
The property already has existing trails, which will need to be maintained, and NEFF will evaluate the potential to expand this trail network, he said.
NEFF also plans for a local consulting forester to conduct an inventory of the site and propose recommendations for the property in line with NEFF’s goals, he said. Those recommendations could include wildlife habitat projects, timber harvesting, invasive species control or infrastructure improvements, such as parking and trails.
NEFF, which promotes sustainable forestry in New England, manages land parcels it owns as “demonstration and education forests,” according to its website. NEFF aims to promote healthy ecosystems, from trees to wildlife to water quality, and take into account public recreation, Pryor said.
In 2015, town residents supported spending $350,000 toward the preservation of the 166 acres under a proposal that also included a $500,000 state grant and fundraising by the foundation. The proposal calls for NEFF to own the property, and the town and state to each hold conservation easements.
In a news release, NEFF said that Steve Harney of KSK Associates — the town’s former Board of Finance chairman — offered the land at a discounted price. Support was received from private sources, including the Bafflin Foundation, Ruth Lord Charitable Trust and Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut, while “local families and individuals also contributed to the $1.7 million campaign to conserve the 200 acre property.”
The adjacent 34 acres represent the second phase of preservation efforts, according to the release. NEFF said it already has received a state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Open Space grant, a U.S. Forest Service Community Forest program grant and support from the Geoffrey C. Hughes Foundation for the 34 acres, and plans to seek additional public and private contributions.
“We are thrilled to expand our work in the state of Connecticut, and humbled by the outpouring of private and public support for the Headwaters of the Niantic River project,” Robert Perschel, NEFF’s executive director, said in a written statement. “We also are excited about the project’s 34-acre Phase 2, and look forward to working with the local community to ensure this woodland remains a productive and valuable resource for generations to come.”
The nonprofit said in the release that the 200 acres are part of a 2,200-acre swath of forest — consisting of about 20 mostly privately owned parcels — in East Lyme and Waterford that it wants to help preserve to protect the Niantic River estuary.