Ridgefield, Washington to receive thousands for open space preservation

Photo of Shayla Colon

Ridgefield and Washington, among other towns in the state, are slated to receive thousands of dollars in grant money for their open space efforts.

Both were awarded grants by the state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. DEEP has administered roughly $6.2 million for open space preservation under its Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Program and Urban Green and Community Garden Program.

Approximately $5.5 million of the money will support towns buying nearly 3,000 acres, according to a press release from Gov. Ned Lamont’s office. Washington and Ridgefield combined are being given about $778,000 in grant dollars.

Open space is land preserved to help protect biodiversity and natural landscapes that residents can also use for recreation.

“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 in a statement.

“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.”

Jay Hubelbank, Washington’s First Selectman, said the town is “thrilled” about the grant money coming its way.

“It’s a pretty high priority,” he said, noting the town does have a “fair share” of open space that the conservation commission has worked toward achieving for years.

Washington will draw $736,000 for its conservation of the Bantam, Cook and Mount Tom preserves. The properties are part of an initiative spearheaded by the Steep Rock Association to expand and connect the parcels to already preserved areas, according to the release.

The Bantam and Mount Tom Preserves will be joined with the Mount Tom State Park and Wyantenock State Forest, as well as include an installation of a 2.1-mile trail. However, the Cook Preserve will be coupled with the Bronson Fields space.

Each has forest land, wetlands and animal habitats.

In Ridgefield, local officials are gaining $42,000 for their continued effort to sustain the Bear Mountain land and attach it to the Hemlock Hills preserve that spans over 386 acres. This property is home to several native tree species such as black birch, blueberry and mountain laurel.

Jim Coyle, chairman of the Ridgefield Conservation Commission once described open space as the “lungs of the town.

Ridgefield officials purchased the Bear Mountain parcel last year and have since completed building the trail - called the white trail - that connects the section to Hemlock Hills with help from some neighborhood boy scouts.

“We’re always looking to add open space in town,” Coyle said.

And although the town had to spend some money to get its grant application moving and was expecting more from the state, the amount it’s getting will be helpful for the next purchase.

Right now the town has approximately 26 percent of open space and is hoping to attain more and reach its goal of 30 percent.

“The cost of real estate in Ridgefield is pretty high, but on occasion, we find something like this that we can afford,” Coyle said, explaining that reaching the town’s goal would likely cost them close to $10 million, which is why they appreciate land donations from residents.

Connecticut now has about 512,000 acres of open space, bringing it more than three quarters closer to its overarching goal of 673,210 acres, the release said.