June 2022 Project Update: Copps Brook Conservation Effort

The Copps Brook Project
Al Harvey

June 2022 Update: After nearly two years of efforts, we are so happy to share that the conservation of 230 acres along Copps Brook in Stonington is complete. You can find the press release on the Trust for Public Land's website here. We are so grateful to all the people and organizations that made this effort possible. 

Background Information: Situated in the northwest section of Stonington, the 230+ acre property came on the market in the summer of 2020. Nested between several existing conservation areas, the land has been targeted as a priority by both local government and land trusts. Based on requests for assistance to find a way to conserve the land from Town of Stonington First Selectman, Avalonia Land Conservancy, Aquarion Water Company and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS)  - The Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national non-profit conservation organization, worked to secure an option in late 2020 to purchase the property.

Since that time, TPL has been working on the many facets required to move forward with the purchase, including developing a funding strategy and working with partners on an outcome that puts the community and conservation at the center.  

The natural resource values, surface water protection, public access and passive recreational opportunities offer an array of public benefits to Stonington and beyond. The areas along the streams and in the wetlands, along with a dense understory, provide important nesting and cover for various wildlife and species, while Copps Brook flows directly into Aquarion Water Company’s drinking water reservoirs. Preserving forestland and wetlands is also important as communities, and the State, look to both mitigate and adapt to climate change impacts.  

TPL and partners have created a plan that will have Avalonia Land Conservancy (an accredited land trust) manage 130 acres for open space, and USFWS 102 acres as part of the Great Thicket National Wildlife Refuge. Aquarion will also hold a conservation easement within the Avalonia portion, and helped provide funding toward this conservation effort. Trails traverse both properties, and both entities prioritize conservation and public access for residents and visitors alike. 

During the April 13, 2022 Board of Selectmen meeting a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was voted on and approved for the Town of Stonington to enter into an agreement with Avalonia Land Conservancy and Trust for Public Land to confirm intentions with respect to the acquisition of the Property and the completion of the Copps Brook Project, which includes the Town’s funding contribution in the amount of $270,000 from the Open Space Fund.

The closing on this property took place the first week of June 2022.

Both Avalonia and USFWS will begin working on establishing plans for how to create trails that protect habitats that are fragile, while allowing access to beautiful spots within the forest. The goal is to have trails and the parking area created by the end of 2022, potentially by Fall. Please stay tuned for a volunteer sign up that Avalonia and the Town will be sharing, as we will be looking for volunteers to help when we begin more active stewardship, such as pulling invasive plants and formalizing the trail system.

Below are some of the relevant facts relating the acquisition and management of the properties:

  • The 232 forested acres on Al Harvey Road in Stonington are nestled between several conservation areas and the land has been a conservation priority by both local government and land trusts.
  • The Town’s Plan of Conservation and Development, showed 89% of survey respondents want more bicycle and walking trails and 79% want more open space and nature preserves. Based on this information and other factors, the Town of Stonington Board of Finance endorsed using up to $300K from the dedicated open space fund for the purposes of conserving the property.
  • During the April 13, 2022 Board of Selectmen meeting a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was voted on, and approved, to formalize the relationship between TPL, Town of Stonington and Avalonia Land Conservancy with respect to the acquisition of the Avalonia managed portion of the property.
  • This parcel will be funded through a variety of mechanisms, including Towns funds in the amount of $270,000 from the Open Space Fund, as well as $289,000 from Aquarion Water Company and $59,000 in private donations made to Trust for Public Land for the purchase.
  • Avalonia Land Conservancy will follow its longstanding, best practices for opening and managing its conservation properties.
  • The USFWS has their own funding, approximately $532,000, for the purchase of the northern parcel, roughly 102 acres.
  • The USFWS is governed by federal regulations regarding land ownership and management. After the appraisals were completed, USFWS conducted a pre-acquisition compatibility determination to determine appropriate future uses such as hunting, wildlife observation, photography, fishing, environmental education and interpretation.  The USFWS is required by federal law (the Refuge Improvement Act) to consider these uses.  The pre-acquisition compatibility determination offered a public comment period. The full process is outlined in the Great Thicket NWR Final Protection Plan / Environmental Assessment dated October 2016 with Alternative B approved in January 2017. In February 2022, the pre-acquisition compatibility determination was put out and comments were submitted. USFWS has published their compatibility determination, which outlines the final approved uses for the property and will be found here.  
  • Boundaries, including interior boundaries, will be posted.
  • The USFWS purchased a property in North Stonington, the first Connecticut segment of Great Thicket National Wildlife Refuge. This parcel in Stonington will be the second segment. 
  • Federal land ownership qualifies the Town of Stonington for the Federal Land Access Program, which provides Federal funding for road improvement projects.
  • The public is welcome to send questions to any of the agencies and entities referenced.