'Lungs of the town': Ridgefield to expand Bear Mountain open space with grant money

Photo of Shayla Colon
Ridgefield received a $42,000 state grant to add additional terrain to its Bear Mountain preserve

Ridgefield received a $42,000 state grant to add additional terrain to its Bear Mountain preserve

James Coyle / Hearst Connecticut Media

RIDGEFIELD — The town was awarded a state grant to expand one of its open space preserves, which has become more popular as residents try to get outside during the pandemic.

Ridgefield received a $42,000 Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Grant from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to tack on additional terrain to its Bear Mountain preserve. Open space is land a town conserves for the sake of maintaining biodiversity, scenic beauty and a place for outdoor activities.

“Our open spaces are maybe the lungs of the town, if you will,” said James Coyle, chairman of the Ridgefield Conservation Commission. “They’re places you can go to and relax and breathe fresh air.”

Coyle believes open spaces have been particularly important to residents throughout the pandemic.

“We have a lot more people using our trails,” he said. “You couldn’t go here or there, but you could go out and walk in nature or take your family and all that kind of stuff.”

The commission plans to use grant dollars to “partially fund a purchase” of about 14 acres adjacent to Hemlock Hills, Coyle said. Acquiring this parcel would allow Ridgefield to connect a three-acre parcel of town-owned space to the 386-acre Hemlock Hills lot in the Bear Mountain area.

“We have put in a new trail that links to the trails in Hemlock Hills,” Coyle said. “Most of our open space is wooded and this is low-key and will continue that way.”

The commission aims to make 30 percent of the town’s overall land open space. Coyle said about 25.8 percent of Ridgefield is currently occupied by open spaces, many of which are “almost inaccessible,” so the grant “helps us toward our goal a little bit,” he said.

State Sen. Will Haskell, D-Westport, said he is grateful the state will “lend a hand,” to preserve open space.

“Our beautiful forests and trails make Fairfield County a wonderful place to live, and I’m determined to protect these natural resources for the next generation to enjoy,” he said in a statement.

Wilton's Aspetuck Land Trust was also given roughly $157,500 in grant money to purchase 11.5 acres in the Fratelli Zeta acquisition, which is part of an overarching project to create a 705-acre forest block between Wilton and Weston.

This trail system will connect to the Norwalk River Valley Trail at the Cannondale Station and Redding's Huntington State Park.

“These grants will preserve hundreds of acres of open space in my district, and I'm grateful to Governor Lamont for his support of this initiative,” Haskell said.