Published October 13, 2019
By Kimberly Drelich

Ledyard — The Avalonia Land Conservancy plans to purchase two properties on Long Cove Road and preserve them for recreational opportunities and watershed protection.

The Atkinson and Dirlam properties feature roughly 5 miles of trails that connect to the Great Oak Greenway in Ledyard and contain wetlands and vernal pools, members of Avalonia Land Conservancy's Board of Directors said.

The conservancy plans to buy the land by the end of the year.

The Groton City Council voted last week to approve a contribution of up to $159,945 from Groton Utilities to the Avalonia Land Conservancy to purchase the 183-acre Atkinson Property adjacent to the Groton Utilities watershed. The contribution, which the Groton Utilities Commission previously approved, represents the last funding needed to purchase the property.

Last year, Avalonia Land Conservancy was awarded a $697,775 grant from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection toward acquiring the Atkinson property along with the abutting 41-acre Dirlam property, which cost a total of $1,108,925. Other donors included the town of Ledyard, the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut, the Fields Pond Foundation, the Helios Foundation, the Bafflin Foundation, and supporters of the Avalonia Land Conservancy, said Dennis Main, president of Avalonia's board of directors.
The acreage, which will be owned by Avalonia Land Conservancy, will be preserved in perpetuity and will be open to the public for passive recreation, except for areas most sensitive for the watershed, said Main.
The Atkinson property is adjacent to the Morgan Pond Reservoir and would protect the Great Brook Watershed, said Groton Utilities Manager of Communications and Community Outreach Daniel Bouges.

Groton Utilities has wanted to protect this land parcel, which is sensitive to the watershed, for about 30 years, said Rick Stevens, manager for Groton Utilities in the water and wastewater division.

Groton Utilities and Avalonia developed a memorandum of understanding that provides a plan for the future of watershed protection, best management practices, and collaboration on educational opportunities, he said.
Wetlands and streams on the properties "form the headwaters of Thompson Brook — water that flows directly into the Groton Utilities reservoir system," according to the draft agreement. Preserving the land "will permanently protect over 100 acres of vernal pools, wetlands, and streams that contribute significantly to the Thompson Brook, Great Brook and Long Island Sound Watersheds," it states.

The contribution from Groton Utilities is from Groton Utilities' Water Division Retained Earnings fund, Bouges said. "Water is our most important natural resource, and Groton Utilities believes that all efforts should be made to protect its purity to ensure clean and safe drinking water for its customers," Bouges said. "This is an economical way to protect the watershed with a one-time donation, while Avalonia maintains the area going forward. Both Avalonia Land Conservatory and Groton Utilities have a mutual interest in protecting the environment and water resources, so this donation works for everyone.”

Julie DuPont-Woody from the Board of Directors of the Avalonia Land Conservancy said a proposed 73-lot housing subdivision was part of the urgency to preserve the land which has wetlands and vernal pools. "All of that water is what we drink so it's vital to protect that watershed," she said.

Ledyard contributed $60,000 in open space funds to Avalonia for land acquisition, said Main. Ledyard Mayor Fred Allyn III said the Town Council decided years ago to direct a portion of the real estate conveyance tax proceeds to a fund designated for the purchase of open space. "Over time, the collective feeling was that a land preservation group such as Avalonia are better stewards of the acquired parcels than the town may be so we felt this was a wise investment of a portion of the open space funds," he said.

"We also felt these parcels were important due to connectivity to the historic Nathan Lester House and the 109-acre parcel the town owns, which is adjacent," he added. "This acquisition was a shining example of several interests converging, working together and arriving at the common goal." Avalonia Land Conservancy is continuing to fundraise to cover the costs of long-term stewardship of the land, Main said.

The land trust has acquired recently hundreds of acres of land, including the 409-acre Tri-Town Ridgeline Forest Griswold, North Stonington and Preston; several land donations of waterfront parcels at Pachaug Pond in Griswold; the Dutka Nature Preserve abutting the waterfront parcels; and the Boyd Rixtown Mountain Preserve abutting the Tri-Town, Main said. In addition, Avalonia closed on the donated 41-acre Leo Antonino property in Groton at the end of last year.