Land Conservation Deal Protects More Than 500 Acres

UConn has signed an agreement to conserve hundreds of acres of forest land in eastern Connecticut.

<p>The Fenton River Watershed Forest and Trail Conservation Project.</p>
The Fenton River Watershed Forest and Trail Conservation Project.

A land conservation transaction announced last week between the Connecticut Forest and Park Association (CFPA), Norcross Wildlife Foundation, and UConn will ensure the conservation of 531 acres of forest land and three miles of blue-blazed hiking trails in the towns of Willington and Mansfield.

The project, which was several years in the making, was initiated by CFPA with funds from the Hibbard Trust for Land and Trails, a fund established by CFPA in 2001 to help finance the conservation of Connecticut’s blue-blazed hiking trails and working forestlands. CFPA also used an open space grant from the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection and a no-interest loan from Norcross to acquire the first tract of forestland from the Town of Willington.

The total cost was about $350,000.

“I am ecstatic that this significant forest, trail, and community conservation project has finally crossed the finish line,” said Eric Hammerling, executive director of CFPA, “but in some ways our work is just beginning. We are now committed to ensuring the ongoing protection and stewardship of these properties and trails forever.

“As the oldest conservation organization in Connecticut – established in 1895 – we certainly understand what is involved in planning for the long haul,” Hammerling added, “and we hope the citizens of Mansfield, Willington, and Northeastern Connecticut will help support CFPA’s ongoing conservation efforts.”

Dan Donahue, Norcross’s director of land protection and stewardship, said, “The Norcross Wildlife Foundation has supported this important land conservation effort from the beginning and is very pleased that it has been successfully completed. Norcross recognizes and appreciates the outstanding fish and wildlife habitat that the Fenton River watershed has to offer. The good work of this partnership has helped to conserve priority habitat that is simply irreplaceable.”

The areas that have been conserved are:

  • The 96-acre North property on Mason Road in Willington, a mature hardwood forest on the eastern bank of a scenic stretch of the Fenton River. Purchased by CFPA from the Town of Willington in 2005, the North property was a gift to the town from Mr. Daniel North. In accordance with his wishes, the proceeds of CFPA’s purchase were used to contribute to the building of Willington’s first stand-alone public library. As part of the new agreement, the CFPA conveyed the land to UConn.
  • The 135-acre Albert E. Moss Sanctuary located at the corner of South Eagleville Road and Route 195 in Storrs. The Moss Sanctuary is a maturing oak-hardwood forest that includes Tift Pond and a well-established hiking trail system. It is situated across South Eagleville Road from the Mansfield town offices and Community Center. UConn conveyed the land to CFPA, which then conveyed it to the Town of Mansfield.
  • The Moss Forest Tract, a 300-acre forest in Willington. The Moss Forest Tract abuts the North property and the two parcels combined are 396 acres of upland deciduous forest, bisected by the Fenton River and one of its significant tributaries, Eldredge Brook. The Moss Tract has been designated a research forest by the University. UConn conveyed to CFPA a 50-year conservation restriction.

UConn also conveyed to CFPA permanent trail easements over the blue-blazed Nipmuck trail that lies within the North property, the Moss Forest Tract, and the Fenton Tract of the UConn Forest. The Nipmuck Trail, like all the 825 miles of blue-blazed hiking trails, is open to the public for passive use. Approximately three miles of blue-blazed hiking trail are now protected, the largest single trail easement ever acquired by CFPA.

“This is truly a win for all parties,” said Richard Miller, director of environmental policy for UConn. “The University is excited to now have nearly 400 contiguous acres of undisturbed research forest at the Moss Tract in Willington, so close to our main campus. And by granting CFPA an easement to the Nipmuck Trail, which runs from the Moss Tract through the Fenton Forest on our East Campus, we’ve ensured that one of the oldest and most highly-regarded conservation organizations in Connecticut will help protect and maintain this wonderful 3.5-mile section of blue-blazed trail. At the same time, the hiking trails and Tift Pond in the Moss Sanctuary will be preserved by the town as a natural recreational resource for students and others in the university community.”

In addition to conserving properties like these, CFPA and its volunteers maintain 825 miles of blue-blazed hiking trails that pass through 88 towns in Connecticut.