By Clark Judge.
(March 31, 2022) — When the owner of the Deer Lake Scout Reservation announced its sale last month to a private developer for $4.625 million, it included an extraordinary proviso: It said it would “consider superior offers” by March 31.
For the next six weeks, there were none. Then Wednesday happened.
In an unexpected and remarkable move, Pathfinders, Inc. — a local nonprofit dedicated to the preservation and protection of Deer Lake as green space – made an 11th hour offer to purchase the 255-property. Terms were not revealed.
“I would say we consider it a superior offer,” said Ted Langevin, the Pathfinders’ chairman.
A letter-of-intent was communicated by Langevin to the real estate agent representing Deer Lake’s owner, the Connecticut Yankee Council of the Boy Scouts of America. Langevin said he was told the proposal would be presented to the Council Thursday and was hopeful he would have a response by then.
Rudy Escalante, president of the Council’s Board of Directors, declined to comment.
“Let’s talk tomorrow,” he said Wednesday evening.
It is believed that Pathfinders’ proposal may have included an extension of the March 31 deadline to complete its transaction. If so, it wasn’t necessary.
That’s because another unexpected event occurred: Connecticut Atty. Gen. William Tong entered the arena. His office issued a press release late Wednesday afternoon, saying that, after communicating with the Connecticut Yankee Council, it agreed to postpone “consideration of proposals” for the purchase of Deer Lake until May 1.
“The Office of the Attorney General is currently reviewing questions regarding the legal status of the property and a potential sale,” the statement said. “At the request of Attorney General Tong and due to the pending inquiry into the property, the Boy Scouts have agreed to delay their decision on the sale of the property until May 1, extending their previous March 31 deadline.”
What impact that has on the future of Deer Lake is not known. Until Wednesday, the most likely resolution seemed to be its sale to Fortitude Capital LLC, a private developer headed by Margaret Streicker. Its offer of $4.625 million was one of two received by the Connecticut Yankee Council. A $2.4-million proposal by the Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit whose mission is “to create parks and protect land for people,” was deemed unacceptable.
And that’s where negotiations stood … until Wednesday.
“I am thrilled that Pathfinders has submitted an offer,” said Killingworth First Selectwoman Nancy Gorski, an advocate of protecting Deer Lake. “I’m really looking forward to being able to work with them to ensure that Deer Lake is conserved in perpetuity.”
First, however, the property must be acquired.
Despite a chorus of support the past two months by politicians, conservationists, preservationists and advocacy groups to keep Deer Lake as open space, financial support for the movement was slow. Then, two weeks ago Pathfinders initiated an aggressive fundraising campaign and made such remarkable progress that it felt comfortable Wednesday making a bid it believed would satisfy the Connecticut Yankee Council.
““What I can say?” said Langevin. “I’m humbled. I can barely talk about it. It’s a miracle.”
It’s more than that. It’s a testament to a coordinated and productive grassroots movement, led by Pathfinders. With last-minute pledges rolling in, the group on Wednesday was able to take a step few envisioned as late as this week. In fact, when Streicker visited with Gorski Tuesday at the Killingworth Town Hall, the conversation — at least according to Gorski — centered on Streicker’s “intentions” once she gained control of Deer Lake.
Twenty-four hours later, a competing offer was made, and the state Attorney General was heard. Now, Streicker’s ownership is no longer assured. While the Attorney General raises questions about constraints within the property, it does not change Pathfinders’ “commitment to keeping it green in perpetuity,” as one board member put it.
“I think it’s significant,” state Sen. Christine Cohen said of Tong’s involvement. “I think it’s a good thing he’s involved — even if it doesn’t result in some legal action, which could be good for everybody. There may be just enough here to have all the parties take a pause.”
Langevin didn’t disagree.
“It really just slows down the process a little bit,” he said. “We’re going to keep doing what we set out to do, and that’s to negotiate with Council and try to get a deal.”
Until Pathfinders stepped in, the odds of preserving Deer Lake as open space appeared remote. Now, the combination of a competitive offer, political interest, community support and public pressure on the Scouts to adhere to its history as “a leader in conservation education and environmental stewardship (Conservation Resources | Boy Scouts of America (scouting.org),” has the Connecticut Yankee Council in a complicated position.
It’s in the middle of a contentious public debate, and look no further than an Instagram post by Eagle Scout John Leonard of Guilford for the evidence.
“CT Yankee has full control who wins the sale,” he wrote in an open letter to the Connecticut Yankee Council. “Pathfinders is the only acceptable option. Fortitude Capital would be a disgrace…. Scouting aligns with conservation, not capitalism.”
Photos by Clark Judge.