By Clark Judge
(September 1, 2022) — Deer Lake is one step closer to being saved.
Nearly one year after the 300-acre property was listed for sale, a contract for purchase has been signed between Pathfinders, Inc., a local nonprofit dedicated to preserving and protecting it from development, and Deer Lake’s owner, the Connecticut Yankee Council of the Boy Scouts of America.
That news broke on September 1st when Pathfinders posted a release on Facebook, announcing the deal to buy the tract is for $4.75 million and that a September 15, 2022 closing is scheduled.
The post also indicated that the agreement covers the entire acreage of Deer Lake, its buildings and all improvements connected with the Deer Lake Camp. It said that Pathfinders will continue to operate the summer camp and Wilderness School and plans to work with the state and Town of Killingworth “to ensure that the land is protected in perpetuity.”
“We are relieved to report that the beautiful and ecologically crucial Deer Lake property can be protected forever,” said Pathfinders president Ted Langevin in a prepared statement.
However, a spokesman for the Connecticut Yankee Council challenged the report, saying news of a sale is premature and asking that “we all remain unified” until the deal is complete.
“We just signed a purchase agreement,” said Bob Brown of the Connecticut Yankee Council. “The property has not closed yet. I would ask that you refrain from reporting. Until you buy a house, nothing is solidified until you sign a paper, the deal is signed and the terms are all set with the banks and the lawyers doing their things.”
Nevertheless, Brown confirmed that a contract has been negotiated and that a September 15th date for closing is the target. He also termed Thursday’s development “encouraging” for all sides.
“It is encouraging, that’s for sure,” said Brown. “I think we are all unified. But we don’t want to pop the Champagne, if you will, until the deal is closed.”
If and when that happens, it will end months of drama and speculation that began last September when the Council announced that Deer Lake was for sale. More important, it will have kept the property from development.
“Honestly, I’m thrilled with this news,” Killingworth First Selectwoman Nancy Gorski said.
Though details of the agreement were not revealed, it is known that the purchase price includes at least $1.7 million in what Langevin referred to as “low-interest loans.” However, it also includes more than $3 million in donations, the result of an ambitious grassroots campaign launched by Pathfinders in mid-March.
“We are extremely grateful to the generous donors who have made this purchase possible,” said Langevin, “and to the lenders who have provided low-interest loans that allow us to complete the deal on a timetable acceptable to the Boy Scouts.”
The settlement punctuates a long and arduous effort by Pathfinders, as well as concerned preservationists, conservationists and state politicians, to “Save Deer Lake,” as yard signs throughout the area urged.
“To allow it to go the way of development,” U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said at a January 26th news conference, “would be unconscionable.”
The Pathfinders’ drive began after the Boy Scouts announced in February that they had accepted a $4.625 million proposal from a private developer, Fortitude Capital LLC. However, in an extraordinary move, the Scouts also said they would entertain superior offers until a March 31, 2022 deadline.
That’s when Pathfinders stepped in, launching an aggressive fundraising push, and negotiations between the group and the Connecticut Yankee Council began. It’s also when Connecticut State Attorney General William Tong intervened, pushing the deadline back to May 1st.
“I hope this time will allow all sides to work together on a positive resolution,” Tong said then.
It did. But not without its hiccups.
Most notable was a court action filed this spring by a local environmental attorney seeking to protect a bird sanctuary on the Deer Lake property. That halted negotiations until the Scouts filed a counter suit, and the complaint was withdrawn.
“Deer Lake is a beautiful, undeveloped property,” Tong said in a statement released on Friday, September 2nd, “where generations of Connecticut children have spent memorable and impactful summers. I am pleased that all parties were able to work together to find a way to preserve this Connecticut gem. Over the past few months, I have heard from former campers, community leaders and advocates who all shared a strong desire to preserve Deer Lake. I thank the Boy Scouts and Pathfinders for taking the time to reach this positive resolution.”
End of story? Not exactly. As Brown pointed out, there is still a closing that must be held. However, those close to the situation do not anticipate obstacles that could prevent that from occurring.
Furthermore, as Langevin pointed out, the purchase of Deer Lake includes considerable loans … and those loans must be repaid. That means a second, and equally aggressive, fundraising campaign is necessitated – one that could include state and local assistance.
“Once these loans are repaid,” Langevin said, “Pathfinders will be able to put a permanent conservation easement on the property. We must continue our fundraising efforts in order to repay these loans. We are confident that the people who recognize the vital importance of protecting Deer Lake will step up to this challenge.”