Easement Protects 20 acres of the Former Griswold Airport

September 8, 2011

Recently, Madison's First Selectman Fillmore McPherson signed a conservation easement to permanently protect 20.6 acres of the former Griswold Airport land from development. The legal document helps ensure the most ecologically sensitive land along the Hammonasett River, salt marshes, and coastal grassland will be conserved, and allows for passive recreation, such as hiking and birdviewing.

The conservation easement will be held and managed by the State of Connecticut, and was signed for the Town in exchange for grant funds that will be used to help pay for the cost of acquiring the land.

Fillmore McPherson, remarked, "The conservation easement is a significant milestone, giving Madison residents the benefit of a permanently conserved natural area. And the entire Town benefits from $760,000 in grants to reduce the total cost of the land acquisition. Voters approved this project without the expectation of nearly a million dollars in grant funding, which is a tremendous boost for the taxpayers."

The Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national conservation organization, and Audubon Connecticut applied for the grants in 2010 in partnership with the Town. The grant funds include $500,000 from the State of Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection's Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Grant Program and $260,000 from the State of Connecticut DEEP's Ecosystem Management/Habitat Restoration and Long Island Sound Grant Fund.

The balance of the Ecosystem Management Grant and an additional grant from the Long Island Sound Futures Fund, a project of the Long Island Sound Study and administered through National Fish and Wildlife Foundation bring to completion the fundraising campaign for the project that was conducted by TPL, Audubon Connecticut, and a volunteer Committee with members of Stop Griswold Over-Development.

A separate grant of $200,000 from the Department of Economic and Community Development's Brownfields Program will soon be received to help pay for demolition and restoration activities. 

"This is momentous because the protection of the land that has been the focus of numerous people for so many years has finally been achieved," said Alicia Betty, Project Manager for The Trust for Public Land. "The Trust for Public Land has been honored to be a part of this conservation effort and to have partnered with the Town and others to purchase and protect the land. We're pleased to help bring additional state and federal funds to the Town to assist with this important project that protected one of the last large parcels along the shoreline of Connecticut. Thank you to all involved."

Audubon Connecticut, the state organization of the National Audubon Society, which partnered with the Town, TPL and SGOD in preserving the site, recognizes the area-including Hammonasset Beach State Park, the river, tidal marsh, and Griswold Airport-as an Important Bird Area of global significance due to the number, diversity and rarity of bird species found there. The high marsh provides critical nesting habitat for the saltmarsh sparrow, a bird that is only found along the Atlantic coast from Maine to Virginia.

"The permanent protection of the Griswold Airport property marks a major conservation victory for Madison, for our state and for our region," said Tom Baptist, executive director and vice president of Audubon Connecticut. "With its native grasslands, coastal forest and productive tidal marsh, Griswold Airport gives us a glimpse into what the coast of Long Island Sound looked like centuries ago. Located along the Atlantic Flyway, the property offers a veritable buffet of habitats for many different species of native and migrating birds or other wildlife. Keeping the majority of the Airport in its natural state and developing the remainder for low impact active and passive recreation will safeguard the health of the Hammonasset tidal marsh and connect people to the rich natural heritage of Long Island Sound for generations to come."

The original purchase price was $7.8 Million in Bond Funds, $1.7 Million from the campaign of The Trust for Public Land and Audubon Connecticut and $1.2 Million in Bond Funds for renovations. These grants reduce the Town's purchase price to $7.04 Million and $1 Million. Creating a new coastal park at the former Griswold Airport has been a decade long effort, that, in the end, resulted in a public-private partnership to raise the significant sums necessary to purchase and protect the land. Additional acreage may be conserved at the park after the design is complete.

"This project is exemplary for the partnership that was assembled and for the number of sources of funding and government and nonprofit entities that came together to make this project a success, " added Betty. "We are grateful for the funding assistance from the Long Island Sound Study, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the Department of Economic and Community Development, and many private individuals and foundations. This significant support from the state and federal entities underscores the ecological importance of this land for the state and Long Island Sound."

The Trust for Public Land (TPL) is a national nonprofit organization working to conserve land for people to enjoy as working landscapes, parks, gardens, and natural areas, ensuring livable communities for generations to come. TPL has protected more than 6,000 acres of open space, watershed land, working farms and forestland, and historic resources in 40 communities across Connecticut.