Simsbury, CT, Approves Funds for Open Space Protection
Simsbury, CT, 11/10/2006: On November 7, the residents of Simsbury demonstrated strong support for open space preservation, voting to spend $7 million towards the purchase of 336 acres of property owned by The Ethel Walker School. The vote marks the end of a months-long grassroots campaign to raise the Town’s share of the purchase price for conservation of a total of 427 acres of land. A non-refundable $1 million deposit, approved resoundingly at a Special Town Meeting in October, gives the town an option to purchase an additional 91 acres owned by The Ethel Walker School for $3.1 million in 2012 and 2014. The town’s deposit will prevent development of the 91 acres during the option period.
The Ethel Walker property is widely recognized as one of the town’s most important natural landscapes. The property includes the Stratton Brook Aquifer, which supplies over 60% of the town’s water supply, and is located within a sensitive portion of the aquifer protection area. In addition to the critical water resources on the property, the Ethel Walker land also contains exceptional diversity of habitat and lies at the heart of more than 1400 acres of contiguous open space. The parcel connects to Stratton Brook State Park, Massacoe State Forest, Town Forest Park, and numerous other private lands and is considered the cornerstone of Simsbury and Farmington Valley Open Space programs.
Susanna Jones, Head of The Ethel Walker School, expressed the School’s gratitude to all those involved in the preservation effort in a statement released on election night. “We are overjoyed with this outcome! We believe that preserving this land is good for Simsbury, good for the earth, and good for Walker’s. We are deeply indebted to the amazing volunteers from Keep the Woods, to The Trust for Public Land, and to the town officials who supported this effort. And, of course, we are grateful to our Simsbury neighbors who supported this measure. Thank you!”
Diane Nash, member of the grassroots group Keep the Woods that has supported preservation of the property, said in a statement: “All Simsbury citizens – those current residents and those who will live here in the future – will benefit from the historic decision to preserve and protect our resources. We will soon realize how small a price we paid for the value we received.”
With the town’s share of the funding secured, the efforts now turn to the private fundraising campaign. The Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit land conservation organization, has committed to raising an additional $2.75 million in private donations by the March 2007 closing to support the first phase of the acquisition. The organization has raised approximately $1 million to date, including a generous contribution of $500,000 that was given anonymously. The Trust for Public Land announced the gift last month.
Melissa Spear, Project Manager for The Trust for Public Land, said in a statement, “We are pleased that the voters of Simsbury recognized the conservation value of the Ethel Walker Woods and the importance of open space protection. After clearing this recent hurdle, The Trust for Public Land can now focus its efforts on raising the remainder of the private funds needed to permanently protect this remarkable property.”
The Ethel Walker Woods conservation project received other positive news last week, when the governor announced the awarding of the recent round of Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition grants. The conservation project was ranked second in the entire state and received the maximum award of $450,000. This was the third grant awarded to the property by the Department of Environmental Protection, for a total of $917,000, and will help defray the cost to the town of the acquisition.
Susan Masino, a member of Keep the Woods, added, “Over the last month, we have seen the value of the Ethel Walker property affirmed, twice by the people of Simsbury and in a recent grant award by the state of Connecticut. We are delighted to see this strong commitment to protecting open space, safeguarding our water supply, and preserving the rich natural resources on this property.”
Tom Herlihy and Linda Schofield, both winning their respective races for State Senator and State Representative for Simsbury, have also been vocal supporters of the conservation project and pledged that they will continue to work at the state level to see a successful outcome. Linda Schofield stated, “Both Tom and I recognize the great value of this land and are looking forward to a bipartisan effort to bring additional state funds to this purchase. The voters of Simsbury have made an important decision this week and we will do all we can in the capitol to support them in this process.”