Agreement Would Protect 424 Acres in Simsbury (CT)
Simsbury, CT, 6/21/2006 – The Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national nonprofit conservation organization, and The Ethel Walker School, a leading independent girls school for grades 6-12, announced today that they have reached an agreement to provide the Town of Simsbury with the opportunity to permanently protect 424 acres of the School’s land on Bushy Hill Road, including its forests, trails, and wetlands, as open space.
The agreement between TPL and the School would allow the Town of Simsbury to purchase the development rights on the land, ensuring that the property would remain in its current natural state. The town has until November 2006 to consider whether to proceed with the agreement negotiated by TPL and the School. If the town approves the deal, a conservation easement would take effect, ensuring the land is never developed and guaranteeing public access to the property for recreational use.
The Ethel Walker School land has been a longstanding conservation priority in Simsbury. The Board of Selectmen asked TPL, with its expertise in large, complex conservation transactions, to assist the effort in December 2005.
The purchase price for the development rights on the 424 acres is $13,850,000, with the town’s share of the price expected to be around $11,100,000. This amount could be defrayed by state grants, including $467,000 already approved by Connecticut’s Open Space Grant program for the protection of 120 acres of the property. TPL has offered to work with the Town to apply for an additional award that would help fund protection of the remaining 304 acres.
The balance of the purchase price, approximately $2,750,000, will be sought through private donations. TPL has agreed to oversee the fundraising campaign in collaboration with The Ethel Walker School as well as other local conservation and civic groups and individuals with an interest in protecting this property. The full purchase price must be assembled by January 2007 in order to successfully complete the project.
The next steps in the process are for the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Finance to examine the agreement and make their recommendations on its acceptance by the town. Simsbury voters would have to approve any town expenditure on the project in a fall referendum.
Dick Davis, president of the Simsbury Land Trust, said, “The Simsbury Land Trust is particularly excited by news of this agreement. On its own, it is a major achievement for the benefit of the community. Beyond that, protection of this land will provide a significant boost to efforts by the Simsbury Land Trust and others to protect a continuous natural corridor and hiking trail from the center of the town to its ridges and beyond. The extensive network of woods and wetland at Ethel Walker contributes greatly to the rich mix of geography and habitat that makes this corridor a unique regional treasure.”
Melissa Spear, Project Manager for The Trust for Public Land, said, “Knowing the natural resource value of this land, we jumped at the opportunity to work on its conservation. We are pleased and excited to participate in a partnership with the town, school, and local citizens who want to see this property protected for future generations. We look forward to being involved as the town considers its investment in this project. There is a lot of work to do, and we will begin work on the private fundraising soon.”
Hugh Hildesley, President of the Board of Trustees of The Ethel Walker School, said, “Conservation of this land has always been the first choice of our Board of Trustees. The school is very pleased to have finally been able to reach an agreement that provides the town with a preservation option. We would like to thank the Trust for Public Land for their help in forging an agreement that we think is fair to the town and meets the fiduciary responsibility of the Board. We are hopeful that this agreement can be successfully implemented and the land will be permanently protected for the generations to come.”
Susanna Jones, Walker’s Head of School, said, “The School is thrilled that preservation of this beautiful piece of property is now a real possibility. As a result the people of Simsbury will continue to enjoy these woods and meadows as they have for decades, and the School’s land will remain part of an expanse of open space that includes contiguous state and town lands creating a very large natural environment where local flora and fauna thrive.”
The Ethel Walker land has long been of interest to the town of Simsbury. The School has allowed public access to this land and its several miles of hiking trails for decades. In addition to being the cornerstone of a major contiguous area of open space and wildlife corridor – it borders on Simsbury’s Town Forest Park and its trails connect to both the Stratton Brook State Forest and the Massacoe State Forest – it is a vital area for drinking water quality.
“Almost the entire acreage sits atop the aquifer that supplies the greatest percentage of public drinking water to town residents, as well as a large portion of private wells,” said Susan Masino of the group Keep the Woods. “When you combine this value with the environmental significance of the property, it’s no surprise that community support for its preservation is overwhelming.”
Keep the Woods, (www.keepthewoods.org) is a grassroots group which formed to support protection of the open space and watershed land of the Ethel Walker School. The group will have an educational booth at Eggstock on June 24 to provide information about the property.
The Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national nonprofit organization, specializes in conservation real estate, applying its expertise in negotiations, public finance, and law to protect land for people to enjoy as natural areas, ensuring livable communities for generations to come. TPL has protected more than 4,000 acres of open space, watershed land, working farms and forestland, and historic resources in 32 communities across the state. For more information, please visit www.tpl.org/connecticut.
The Ethel Walker School, founded in 1911, is an independent, college preparatory boarding and day school for girls in grades 6 to 12. This diverse community of learners and friends strives to live according to the values of honor and excellence. Each young woman finds her unique voice and learns to contribute it to the pursuit of these values. Visit www.ethelwalker.org.
For digital images of the Ethel Walker property, contact Kim Gilman at the Trust for Public Land, 617-367-6200 ext. 326 or firstname.lastname@example.org.