Gov. Ned Lamont announced Thursday, June 17, that his administration is awarding $6.2 million in funding to protect and preserve open space lands across Connecticut, including $5.5 million to support 29 grants toward the purchase of nearly 3,000 acres of land.

Among the 29 parcels included in the announcement is an 11-acre property in Wilton that will be preserved by the Aspetuck Land Trust. The $157,500 awarded to help the trust purchase the land is a 2021 Open Space and Watershed Acquisition (OSWA) Grant administered by the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP).

The Aspetuck Land Trust sought and received support from the Wilton Planning and Zoning Commission and Conservation Commission as part of its grant application for the 11.5 acres on the Wilton-Weston border. The trust described the property, known as the Fratelli Zeta Acquisition, as “a land-locked parcel at the heart of one of the last significant forest block expanses in Fairfield County.” Its purchase, the trust explained, would “preserve a significant core landscape that serves to protect species requiring interior forest habitat for their survival.”

The P&Z Commission determined that the purchase was consistent with Wilton’s Plan of Conservation and Development, and wrote a letter of support for the Aspetuck Land Trust’s grant application in July 2020.

The Lamont administration’s announcement described the property as part of the Aspetuck Land Trust’s project “to create a 705-acre contiguous forest known as the Wilton/Weston Forest Block. The trust will create a recreational trail system through the properties with the central trailhead at the Fromson Strassler property, the trust is acquiring with assistance from a 2020 OSWA grant. The forest block will be connected to the Norwalk River Valley Trail at the Cannondale Station in Wilton. Hiking trails in the forest block will also be linked to Huntington State Park in Redding via Georgetown Rd. There are intermittent watercourse and seepage wetlands on the property that contribute to the headwaters of the West Branch of the Saugatuck River. The intermittent stream channel and bordering vegetated wetlands provide habitat for amphibians.”

map: Aspetuck Land Trust

As part of this year’s DEEP land grant awards, the state also awarded five additional grants totaling more than $700,000 for distressed communities to promote the use of open space in urban settings.

The announcement described the value of the open spaces for the state in protecting wildlife habitat, offering recreation opportunities, and protecting ecosystems that are sequestering carbon.

“Our administration has set high goals to mitigate the effects of climate change and implement policies that better preserve our air, water, and natural resources,” Lamont said. “This program is an important component of preserving some of the best and most beautiful land in the world, and by partnering with our municipalities and nonprofits we can ensure that these valuable resources are preserved in perpetuity for generations to come.”

“Open space is key to ensuring a bright economic future for our state,” DEEP Commissioner Katie Dykes said. “These natural assets are valuable as we attract and retain residents who are increasingly looking for varied recreational opportunities where they work, play, and live. No single entity can accomplish the critical goal of protecting our lands with significant conservation values now and for future generations. We need continued cooperation of land trusts, our towns and cities, and conservation-minded citizens to build upon existing and form new partnerships and new approaches to protecting open space.”

The projects announced Thursday bring the total land in Connecticut designated as state or local open space to more than 512,000 acres — approximately more than three-quarters of the way toward the state’s goal of having 673,210 acres designated as open space.

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