$500K Award Completes Campaign to Preserve Former Griswold Airport

The Trust for Public Land will receive a grant from the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP’s) Long Island License Plate Fund and Ecosystem Management Habitat Restoration Grant Program for $500,000 to assist in the conservation of the former Griswold Airport. This award, combined with all other public funds, private gifts and pending pledges raised to date, will successfully complete the fundraising for the project.

In May, The Trust for Public Land (TPL) and Audubon Connecticut presented the Town with $1.7 million to assist with the purchase of the Griswold Airport land. The funds were the result of a conservation campaign to which over 400 individuals and foundations contributed gifts to purchase and conserve the property. The private fundraising was not complete by the closing date, so the two non-profit partners also provided bridge financing for the acquisition. TPL since submitted a DEP grant application in July, and has now secured $500,000 to close the campaign, ensuring the long-term protection and transformation of the former Griswold Airport into a coastal park.

Governor M. Jodi Rell and DEP Commissioner Amey Marrella presented the awards from the Ecosystem Management and Habitat Restoration Grants and the Long Island Sound License Plate Program for worthy projects that restore natural habitats, provide ecosystem management, and promote the habitat restoration of Long Island Sound and its environs. This program is funded by statewide environmental settlements, the sale of Long Island Sound motor vehicle license plates, proceeds from the Preserve the Sound affinity credit card, and individual donations. The goal of the DEP grant program is to support strategic habitat restoration of Connecticut’s and Long Island Sound’s land and water resources, provide support for ecosystem management, and give the public the opportunity to participate directly in efforts to preserve and protect Connecticut’s natural environment.

The 42-acre Griswold Airport property, located on the Boston Post Road, is adjacent to Hammonasset State Park and includes prime wetland habitat, upland forest, and significant frontage along the Hammonasset River. This grant will convey a conservation easement on 17.4 acres, adjacent to the River, which is the most ecologically significant area of the new park. The Madison Park Design Committee is working toward a final design for the remainder of the land.

“We are thrilled that this grant will complete the campaign that we’ve been conducting with our partner, Audubon Connecticut. We greatly appreciate the assistance of the DEP and are very pleased that the State agrees that the ecological resources of the former Griswold Airport deserve protection,” said Alicia Betty, TPL project manager and philanthropy director. “Together with the voters of Madison, Audubon Connecticut, Save Griswold from Overdevelopment (SGOD), hundreds of generous donors, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the State of Connecticut and many other supportive partner organizations, we have been able to prevent the intense residential development that was slated for this land and ensure that it will become a coastal park for all to enjoy.”

“This new grant from the State, on top of the $700,000 already received from them, confirms how important the Griswold property is to the health of the environment. It also validates the concept of partnership between the Town, Trust for Public Land, and Connecticut Audubon.”
Fillmore McPherson, First Selectman of the Town of Madison, remarked, “I am surprised and delighted to receive a grant amount double what we suspected. While we are checking the details of the grants, it appears that the Town will receive a good six-figure amount to apply to the purchase of the airport property.”

“Audubon Connecticut applauds Governor Rell, DEP Commissioner Marella, and the review team for making this investment in the future of Griswold Airport as a park for people and for wildlife,” said Tom Baptist, vice president and executive director of Audubon Connecticut, the state office of the National Audubon Society. “This grant recognizes not only a remarkable coastal property, but also the admirable partnership among sports, conservation, and park advocates who worked together to safeguard a place where people can both experience nature and enjoy outdoor recreation,” Baptist stated. “With this grant, conservation stakeholders will have contributed over $2.2 million toward the protection of this gem along the Sound,” he added.

Leyland Alliance purchased the former airport property in 2007, after holding an option to buy the land since 2000. Approvals of a plan to build 127 housing units on the land were finalized in 2008. The development plan faced opposition from some Madison citizens, including Stop Griswold Over Development (SGOD), which successfully held the proposal at bay for years. In 2008, the Town of Madison invited the Connecticut office of TPL to negotiate with Leyland Alliance to achieve a conservation solution. TPL announced an agreement to purchase the property in September 2009, and in January 2010 Madison voters approved a $9 million referendum to cover $7.8 million of the $9.5 million purchase price and $1.2 million for improvements to the land. TPL, with support from Audubon Connecticut, Stop Griswold Over Development, and local campaign volunteers, agreed to raise the remaining $1.7 million needed for purchase and costs to assist the Town.

The Town of Madison and TPL have both recently received additional grants for this project. The Town was recently awarded a $500,000 grant from the State of Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection to reduce Town bonds for the project and The Trust for Public Land was recently awarded a $260,000 grant from the Long Island Sound License Plate Fund to contribute to the fundraising.

The Trust for Public Land (TPL) is a national nonprofit organization which works with partners and communities 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 over 6,000 acres of open space, watershed land, working farms and forestland, and historic resources in 32 communities across the state.