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Deer Lake Sale Threatens One of the Most Resilient Areas in the Northeast

By Clark Judge.

(March 21, 2022) — If the Deer Lake sale goes through, and the 255-acre property is sold to a private developer, Connecticut loses more than pristine wilderness. It loses one of the areas “most resilient” to climate change in the Northeast corridor.

That is how the region that includes the Deer Lake Scout Reservation is characterized by The Connecticut Nature Conservancy (TNC), a non-profit dedicated to the preservation and care of nature and the environment. With a series of colored maps that appear on its Resilient and Connected Network (Conservation Gateway – Home), TNC lists the region as one of the most valuable sites near the coastline between New York City and Boston.

“Resilient lands not only benefit plants and animals,” said Sarah Pellegrino, the Land Protection and Strategies Manager for the Connecticut Nature Conservancy, “they ensure clean air and water, maximize benefits of forests and wetlands for storing carbon in plants and soils, protect communities from extreme storms and flooding and provide open green spaces. Resilient lands are key to a future where people and nature thrives.”

Yet, this resilient land is in grave danger of being lost. Its owner, the Connecticut Yankee Council of the Boy Scouts of America, last month agreed to sell it to Fortitude Capital LLC, a private developer, for $4.625 million. However, it did not complete the sale – saying it would consider all “superior offers” by March 31.

But there are no superior offers. Not yet, anyway.

According to the Connecticut Yankee Council, only one other proposal for the Deer Lake property has been entertained. That is from the Trust for Public Land (TPL, a non-profit designed to protect and preserve land and “strongly supported” by Killingworth’s Board of Selectmen in a resolution last week). TPL has made two offers at an estimated $2.4 million, with the first rejected by the Council last month.

“I told the Trust for Public Land on numerous occasions that if you’re close we would accept it,” Rudy Escalante, president of the Connecticut Yankee Council’s executive board, said last month. “But if it’s not close, it’s an easy decision. And they weren’t close.”

TPL is handcuffed by an appraisal it commissioned earlier this year, which came in at $2-2.4 million. As a non-profit, it must base its offer on fair-market value. The Connecticut Yankee Council’s appraisal, meanwhile, was considerably higher, in the $3.7-4.2-million range. Fortitude Capital LLC reportedly made an initial offer of $3.875 million for the property before upping it to $4.625 million.

That puts Deer Lake’s future in peril. While its website (www.scouting.org) defines the Boy Scouts of America as “a leader in conservation and environmental leadership,” the Connecticut Yankee Council has made it clear that the resource that matters here is revenue.

Meaning? Meaning that unless Fortitude Capital’s offer of $4.625 million is exceeded by March 31, 255 acres of one the state’s “most resilient” areas could be lost forever.

“This analysis,” said Pellegrino, “(which was) developed over the past 10 years by a team of TNC scientists, highlights lands that will best sustain native plants, animals and natural processes into the future, looking at landscape characteristics and connectedness. These lands have varied elevations, moisture levels and temperatures. This creates diverse micro-climates that support species as they adapt to climate change’s effects on temperature, precipitation and habitat.

“I can’t speak specifically to what the damage would be to the surrounding landscape if the property is developed. But, generally, we wish to keep forest as forest, minimize disturbances and prevent fragmentation, loss of connectivity and degradation/loss of wildlife habitat. This is a good-sized parcel for Connecticut.”

It is also one at serious risk. Environmentalists, preservationists, and anyone focused on global climate change are worried. They should be.

“For all of us,” U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said at a January news conference, “(Deer Lake) represents some of the best of Connecticut. It is part of the ecological lifeblood of this region. If we lose it, there is no way to recover. Once it’s lost … once it’s developed … once it’s gone … it’s gone forever.”

Photo by Clark Judge.

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