HARTFORD — Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration is awarding approximately $3.7 million in state funding to aid in the purchase and protection of more than 1,025 acres of open space in 14 communities throughout Connecticut.

Additionally, $46,875 will aid in the creation of five new community gardens and green spaces in a targeted investment community.

The selected projects will receive funding through the Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Grant Program and the Urban Green and Community Gardens Grant Program, which are both administered by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

“These state grants will increase the availability of open space and protect our natural resources, moving us closer to meeting our overall goal of permanently protecting 21% of Connecticut’s land base,” Gov. Lamont said. “The Urban Green and Community Gardens grants address needs within urbanized areas of the state, creating more equitable access to outdoor green spaces and promoting fresh, locally grown food. Both programs significantly improve the quality of life for our residents, attract visitors and businesses to the state, and make Connecticut a great place to live and work.”

Section 23-8 of the Connecticut General Statutes establishes a goal of protecting 673,210 acres (21%) of the state’s land base as open space. The goal calls for 320,576 acres (10%) to be held by DEEP as part of the state’s system of parks, forests, fisheries, and natural resource management areas, and 352,634 acres (11%) to be acquired by DEEP’s partners, which include municipalities, nonprofit land conservation organizations, and water companies.

As of December 31, 2022, DEEP estimates that its partners hold approximately 252,197 acres or 71.5% of their share of the state’s open space goal, and that DEEP holds approximately 263,387 acres or 82.22% of its share of the goal. In total, 516,031 acres have been preserved (76.67% of the total goal), leaving an additional 157,179 acres remaining to meet the 21% open space goal.

“Since the Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Grant Program began in 1998, more than $157 million in state funding has been awarded to municipalities, nonprofit land conservation organizations, and water companies to assist in the purchase of more than 42,000 acres of publicly accessible land.” DEEP Commissioner Katie Dykes said.

“Open space preservation is more important now than ever. It is critical in our mitigation efforts to fight against climate change, protects our natural resources and wildlife, maintains healthy air and clean water for our residents, and provides outdoor recreational opportunities throughout our beautiful state.”

The recent grant announcements are the 25th round of grants awarded under these programs. The application period to receive a grant under the upcoming 26th round is now open, with applications due by Monday, October 2. Grant application forms and instructions can be found online by visiting https://portal.ct.gov/DEEP/Open-Space/Open-Space.

The grants announced today include $240,500 to the Morris Land Trust for the Humphrey Farm Reserve, 83 Alain White Rd. The 37.01-acre property is mostly forested with six acres of hay field and farmland, 14 acres of inland wetlands and the headwaters for Whittlesey Brook feeding Bantam Lake.

Nestled among the open fields surrounding Bantam Lake, the diversity of land cover is capable of supporting wildlife nesting and foraging habitat. The Morris Land Trust will keep the fields open, implementing delayed mowing to help ground nesting birds and maintain early successional habitat.

The property contains wood turtle habitat and wood turtles have been documented at the nearby 4,000-acre White Memorial Foundation conservation lands. Surrounding parcels are mostly undeveloped and serve as a wildlife corridor.

The property has 1,200 feet of road frontage mostly occupied by hay fields. A public parking area is proposed at the northern side of the parcel, providing access to a new loop trail along the hay fields for passive recreational activities.

 Naugatuck will receive $135,000 for the 46-acre Wilmont property on the easterly side of Gunntown Road and the west end of Andrew Mountain Road.

The property is part of a larger parcel which will be subdivided together with a proposed access easement off of Andrew Mountain Road. It is bordered by two Naugatuck open space parcels and is a key final gap in Naugatuck’s public trails network.

Naugatuck will formalize the trail on this property away from private land and through an extensive trail network. The trail traverses Middlebury, Oxford and Waterbury, DEEP’s Naugatuck State Forest and Larkin Bridle State Park Trail, and the local “Mission 22 Trail,” which is dedicated to raising awareness of veteran suicide prevention.

The property is steeply sloped, mainly forested and contains about 1.4 acres of inland wetlands. This acquisition will protect the water quality of the Long Meadow Pond Brook and support habitats associated with the state’s goal to reintroduce migrating diadromous fish from Long Island Sound to sub-regional basins of the Naugatuck River.

It supports habitat and migration corridors for wildlife at the nearby Naugatuck State Forest and Audubon Bird Sanctuary.

The Steep Rock Association, Inc., was granted $406,250 for Pinnacle Cliffs, a 30.46-acre site at 51 Rabbit Hill Rd. in Washington.

Located on the Washington and Warren town line, this property expands upon the Steep Rock Association’s Macricostas Preserve and a 1,056-acre intact core forest block. This open space corridor hosts bobcats, bats, sedge skippers, bronze copper butterflies,and many other species.

It is situated within the Audubon’s Shepaug State Forest Important Bird Area, containing habitat for concern species like Louisiana Waterthrush. There are vernal pools, five acres of inland wetlands and a half-mile stream which feeds Meeker Swamp and Washington’s largest aquifer.

Public access will be from the Steep Rock Association’s abutting Macricostas Preserve. A trail spur will be created from the existing Macricostas Preserve network providing hikers with access to a visually stunning boulder, field and stream bed surrounded by soaring bedrock cliffs. 

The Steep Rock Association often lends its preserves for scientific research and would add this property to future monitoring for tree stand, stream temperature, insect and amphibian, acoustic bat, marsh and other nesting bird, and natural resource conditions.

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