Aspetuck Land Trust Preserves Mill River Site

A partnership between the Aspetuck Land Trust, the state and Easton will preserve environmentally sensitive areas of the town-owned property at 22 South Park Avenue as open space in perpetuity.

The land trust applied for an Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Grant in cooperation with the town and the Metropolitan Council of Governments. The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection awarded a grant in the amount of $188,000 and will protect close to 19 acres of the 29.5-acre property along the Mill River. 

“We’ve been looking at this property for many years and talking with the town to find a way to preserve all of it or a portion of it,” David Brant, Aspetuck Land Trust executive director, said. “We have an adjacent four-acre property, the Warner Angler’s Preserve, also on the Mill River, which in this section of the river is designated by the state as a Class 1 Wild Trout Management Area.” 

The Mill River is home to Class 1 wild trout and is known for its cool temperatures. — Gabriella Tamburri Photo

The designation means the site hosts an abundant population of wild trout and is never stocked. “Fishing is permitted year-round with a valid Connecticut license as long as anglers follow strict catch and release guidelines and only use a single hook, barbless lures,” said Justin Giorlando, land use consultant for Easton, who prepared the grant application on behalf of the town. “The South Park property allows us to expand the fishing access.”

The site not only expands an existing land trust preserve and protects the Mill River, a vital natural resource, but it is also located in the land trust’s Green Corridor, which includes the Mill River watershed. Because the grant is for $188,000 and the assessed value of the property is $475,000, the land trust will raise the balance of the funds privately, according to Brant.

“After years of debate about how to manage the South Park property we’re thrilled to be able to preserve this 19-acre parcel permanently while at the same time recouping some of the town’s initial investment in the property,” First Selectman Dave Bindelglass said.  “We hope it will close before the end of the year.”

“The state will have a permanent easement on the property as well as part of the grant and since they don’t allow structures on this property, that is how we proposed it to maintain this property,” Giorlando said. Some outbuildings on the site will have to be razed.

Giorlando provided a recent site tour for Lou Bacchiochi, land stewardship director for the Aspetuck Land trust, Nancy Moon, board member, and the Easton Courier.

Justin Giorlando, Easton land use consultant, and Lou Bacchiochi, land stewardship director for the Aspetuck Land trust walking along the Mill River. – Gabriella Tamburri Photo

A Brief History

The town bought 29.5 acres of land bounded by South Park Avenue and the Mill River for $6,150,000 in 2008 to prevent a high-density development that would have required amending the town’s local zoning regulations. The New England Prayer Center paid the town $300,000 at the time for an option to purchase the property for the price the town paid, less the option payment.

The Prayer Center was unable to complete the purchase, however, and in 2014 all rights went back to the town. The Board of Selectmen at the time sought proposals to purchase the property and held public presentations of five proposals, but none resulted in a sale.

Citizens for Easton proposed preserving South Park in perpetuity as passive open space. Other organizations also recognized its significance and voiced their support for preserving the property.  

Easton continues to pay off a long-term bond for the South Park Avenue purchase while evaluating options for preservation and development. Dan and Gina Blaze of the New England Prayer Center pay to lease the house on the property from the town.

The Board of Selectmen revisited the issue in 2020 and formed the South Park Advisory Committee with a charge of identifying possible uses for the property and making a recommendation to the selectmen. More than 10 acres of the property still remain for future consideration for the town to hold onto or sell for a yet-to-be determined purpose.

Class 1 Wild Trout

There are 28 Wild Trout Management Areas in Connecticut, divided into one of three classes, 1, 2, or 3. Each class has its own specific regulations and management strategy.

Class 1 — nine state waters, including the Mill River— are “natural” wild trout areas: A section of river or stream with adequate natural reproduction to support year-round fishing, provided there was no harvest. There is no stocking of hatchery fish into these waters. The regulations on these waters are to protect the population by prohibiting harvest, requiring the use of a single barbless hook, and limiting gear to artificial only with no live bait. Fishing is allowed year round.

Since the South Park Avenue property abuts land already acquired by the Aspetuck Land Trust it will complement existing preserved open space land. Overall, the initiative of the land trust is to expand the existing preserve and protect the natural resources along the Mill River.

“Access to these opportunities will be provided by a proposed parking area and blazed trail linkages throughout the property,” said Brant. “New and existing trails will be provided along the entire stretch of the property.”

Since 1966, the Aspetuck Land Trust has preserved over 2,000 acres of land that will be maintained in a natural state in perpetuity. Membership donations from the general public help maintain and preserve these lands. You can find out more about becoming a member at aspetucklandtrust.org.

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