Published in The Day

By Erica Moser

East Lyme — The East Lyme Land Trust earlier this month closed on a 301-acre property on the border of East Lyme and Montville, paying $1.58 million, the organization announced.

It will be called the Nehantic Nature Preserve, though land trust President Ron Luich said the name could change.

A trail system will be implemented and public parking spaces constructed in the next few months, with the expectation that the public can enjoy the land by early summer, board member Arthur Carlson said in a news release.

Trail heads will be located on Holmes Road and Grassy Hill Road in East Lyme, and Maiville Road in Montville, and Carlson said the land trust is committed to making several areas of the property accessible to people with disabilities.

The property is bounded by Holmes Road to the north and Grassy Hill Road to the south, extending west as far as Upper Walnut Hill Road on the northern side of the property. The eastern boundary includes 41 acres in Montville, where the property extends into the woods behind the homes on Daisy Hill Road.

This is the property that developer Jonathan Katz, whose father bought the land in 1972, once planned for a golf course, banquet facility and country club called Walnut Hill Country Club, with adjacent senior housing. Katz got permits approved from the zoning commissions in East Lyme and Montville, and multiple extensions for the next few years, but the project never came to fruition.

Katz wrote on his LinkedIn page, "Project well-supported locally but economy not cooperative. Ceded to lenders in 2010."

Town records show that Duval Partners LLC, based out of South Carolina, then bought the property in 2015. This is who sold it to the East Lyme Land Trust, and Luich said the acquisition has been in the works for nearly four years.

The land trust paid for the property using grants from the state's Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Grant Program, the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut and the Bafflin Foundation.

The land trust also just received a $15,000 grant for trails and signage, Luich said, and the group has Boy Scouts and other volunteers helping to clean the trails.

Luich also thanked Jim Bernardo Land Surveying of Waterford, professional engineer Kristen Clarke, and attorney Paul Geraghty of the Geraghty & Bonnano firm in New London for their role in the acquisition.

The property sits by Cranberry Meadow Brook; it's mostly forested and includes wetlands. The application for the state grant, through the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, requires applicants to say whether there is "prime or important agricultural soils," and the land trust said there is on more than 80 acres.

Luich said the land trust hasn't reached out to farmers yet but sees farming "as a potential and we support that kind of a use of the land."

Luich said the land trust is getting a conservation easement from the state, which means there can't be any buildings constructed. DEEP also will require hunting to be allowed on the land.