Monday, October 3, 2022
HomeFeaturesHow It Happened: The Path to Saving Deer Lake

How It Happened: The Path to Saving Deer Lake

By Clark Judge

(September 22, 2022) —A chance meeting. A spurned offer. An unexpected phone call. Put them together, and you have the last step in a grassroots effort that became one of the biggest stories in recent Killingworth history.

The purchase of Deer Lake from the Boy Scouts.

The 255-property was acquired last week by Pathfinders, Inc., a local non-profit dedicated to its preservation, for $4.75 million – a figure that eclipsed a previous offer of $4.625 million by a private developer.

But you knew that. What you may not know is that it was secured only after Tom Mercaldo, president of Aquinas Consulting in Milford, made a last-minute, $500,000 loan to Pathfinders to clinch the deal, with an announcement at a news conference on September 16th.

“This wasn’t just a come-from-behind victory for Deer Lake and the community,” Connecticut Attorney General William Tong said then. “This was a Hail Mary.”

Now it’s a Hail Tom.

Tom Mercaldo

An Eagle Scout, who is the Boy Scout Leader of Troop 1 in Milford, has 38 years experience in the Scouts, and camped multiple times at Deer Lake (including once as a CampMaster), Tom Mercaldo (photo above) was interested in keeping the property as green space. So he approached Deer Lake’s owner, the Connecticut Yankee Council (CYC) of the Boy Scouts of America, with an offer to buy the property at $2-3 million and keep it open to the public.

He was rebuffed.

“I was discouraged,” said Mercaldo. “The idea that the property wouldn’t be available to the people of Killingworth, Clinton and Madison wasn’t conceivable to me. I thought it was all over.”

It wasn’t. With the help of a sister (Renee Allen) who lives in Clinton, Mercaldo learned of Pathfinders’ Save Deer Lake fundraising campaign. So he decided to investigate, liked what he found and offered to help. Result: Success. He made Pathfinders a $500,000 loan that pushed its offer to $4.75 million and produced a settlement.

“I realized that we all had the same goals in mind,” Mercaldo said after being named to the Pathfinders Board of Directors on September 20th, “and that it would be best to turn my attention to supporting this group. They were basically trying to accomplish the same thing that I was.”

Which was?

“To preserve this camp in perpetuity,” he said, “for use by the Boy Scouts, for use for inner-city kids, to save it as a greenway and, hopefully, get it to a point where the property was deeded as open space. Really, the goals of Pathfinders were the exact same goals that I have and everybody I was working with have. So the timing was right.”

So were the individuals.

It turns out that Mercaldo and Ted Langevin, Chairman of Pathfinders, knew each other. They first met in 2010 when they helped build lean-to’s at Deer Lake for a Cub Scouts venture that eventually fizzled. But the two hadn’t been in touch since, with Mercaldo conceding that he was unaware of Langevin’s involvement with fundraising for Deer Lake until he phoned him.

“It’s funny,” he said. “I had almost forgotten who he was. I saw the literature (on Pathfinders) and said, ‘I’ve got to reach out to this guy, Ted.’ And as I started to type his email address and it came up in my Outlook as Ted Langevin with all his contact info, I said, ‘Wait a minute, this is the guy who was organizing all the work parties at Deer Lake that I worked with every weekend for all those years.’ It had been 12 years since I had seen him. So I reached out to him, and after I did, I thought: Maybe these guys have a shot.”

Mercaldo’s offer followed one made earlier by Don Vaccaro, CEO of Ticket Network. He approached Pathfinders in March with an unsolicited $1.3-million loan that elevated the group’s fundraising total to a figure just shy of $4.3 million – a total that provoked Pathfinders to make an offer in late March that was rejected.

Enter Mercaldo, and you know what happened next.

“He called me up,” said Langevin, “and said, ‘I’m doing the same thing you’re doing. Let’s join forces.’  It was pretty much a similar type of phone call that I got from (Vaccaro). They were both cold calls. He had e-mailed me and said. ‘I think I can help you.’ So I told him, ‘Great, I’ll bring it to the Board.’ And I did.

“I didn’t know Don at all, and I barely knew Tom. But I had a feeling about each of them. They were honest. They were in the same mode of thinking that the Board was. And they could help us.”

Both offered low-interest advances so critical to closing the Deer Lake purchase that Mercaldo and Vaccaro were asked to speak at last week’s news conference. Mercaldo did. Former State Rep. Bruce Morris stepped in for Vaccaro.

“This was something that needed to get done,” Morris said. “But there’s another piece to this. The Hail Mary pass was received. We need to get on to permanency. We encourage everyone for the posterity … for the legacy of the state of Connecticut …for the children of the future … to let’s see what we can do to get the posterity done.”

That’s next. Deer Lake has been saved from development, but it hasn’t been saved for posterity – not until Pathfinders retires the $1.8 mortgage and puts a permanent conservation easement on the property.

“I hope I can play a part in achieving those goals and play a part in fundraising,” Mercaldo said.

He already has.

Must Read