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Newly Conserved Lands - Anne Colby

Updated: Jun 17

The past two years have been an extraordinary time for land acquisition preservation work at Southbury Land Trust. One of the fun parts about land acquisition in Southbury is that every conservation acquisition, without exception, leads to a discovery.  And the four most recent properties that SLT has finalized in this past year are perfect examples of this.

1. Spring Hill Farm Preserve/Hutter Lot: 33 acres.

Spring Hill Farm Preserve is a former dairy farm located along Reservoir Road and Old Woodbury Road along the town’s border with Woodbury.  For years, neighbors of this property had urged SLT to consider preservation options for this site which was owned by an out-of-town developer.  And in the summer of 2021, when the purchase price was cut for a quick subdivision sale, SLT stepped in.  

At the time, SLT was especially interested in this parcel because we hadn’t done many conservation acquisitions in northeastern Southbury.  And the property bridges and connects the Land Trust’s adjacent Sterling Woods Preserve and the Town of Woodbury’s 245-acre Trolley Bed Preserve, just across the road. But after just a few weeks of environmental research and interviews with community members, SLT discovered that in addition to this crucial “greenbelt” linkage, the Spring Hill property was hugely significant for many other reasons.

Spring Hill Preserve protects both important natural resources and the site’s historic value. First, the property provides a rich mixture of habitats that support a variety of plants and wildlife. Next, we discovered an abundance of highest quality DEEP-rated “Class AA” watercourses- that’s drinking water quality for both ground and surface water. The site includes a large pond, numerous year-round springs/seeps and streams, plus the headwaters of streams that feed the recharge area of neighboring Woodbury’s public water supply well. Nice chance to help our neighbors! And finally, we learned the fascinating history of the area’s former dairy farmers, who once used these perennial year-round springs to store milk, which was then transported to Waterbury on the nearby trolley and throughout the region by farm truck.


SLT always loves to work on projects that are community-driven, and the Spring Hill project simply would not have been possible without the patient support of the neighborhood group, especially Judith Silverstein and Mike Smith, who spearheaded this effort, and Jerry and Susan Wolfson, whose deep knowledge of history unlocked the almost forgotten story of this significant Connecticut community.


These neighbors also connected the Land Trust and the Hutter family, who owned an adjacent unbuildable lot that they were interested in donating to SLT.  With the help of the Town of Southbury, this lot just was transferred to SLT and will serve as the perfect entrance to Spring Hill Preserve. Work is underway to plan and connect this entrance to an accessible boardwalk trail (using ADA guidelines) leading to a wildlife observation platform on the banks of Spring Hill’s pristine pond. And finally, the project also was made possible by a generous grant from the CT DEEP Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Grant Program, a source of cornerstone funding for so much of our region’s most important conservation work.


2. Silver Beech parcel, 6 acres:

This year also resolved a piece of unfinished business left over from the purchase of two of SLT’s oldest preserves:  Phillips Farm and Lovdal Preserve.

A large parcel at the end of Silver Beech Road cul-de-sac had been held back by the former owner/developer for almost twenty years, and this parcel suddenly was sold to a builder with plans for a large house located right between these much-loved nature preserves.

The building parcel’s steep slopes and stony soils would have required extensive site development including blasting the ledge and stripping most of the trees. And the slopes meant that storm water would drain off directly into SLT’s adjacent rare Fen wetland containing species listed on the CT Endangered Species List, as well as the intersection of Phillips Lovdal Preserve’s main hiking trails.

Fortunately the builder was a really nice guy—and after some intense negotiation, he agreed to sell the Silver Beech parcel to SLT for conservation. At 6 acres, this was the smallest piece we’ve ever purchased, but in some ways one of the most strategically important.

3. Dicks Farm, 221 acres:

From the smallest to the largest SLT acquisition project this year: at 221 acres, the Dicks Family Farm in the “Purchase” section of town is one of Southbury’s greatest old historic working family farms. 

As far back as 2003, SLT’s then President, now Vice President Tom Crider had discussed conservation options with the Dicks family, and suggested the CT Department of Agriculture’s Farmland Preservation Program as one possibility.

Eventually the family pursued that option, with SLT cheering everybody on. This effort allows for the purchase of a permanent Agricultural Conservation Easement on most of the farmland and forest, with the family retaining private ownership and the freedom to continue active agriculture.

The Department of Agriculture partnered on this complex transaction with our friends at CT Farmland Trust (the wonderful State Farmland Trust nonprofit), and with SLT providing the much-needed final 10% to close the funding gap.

The big discovery: all told, the Dicks Farm parcels link together a green belt of over 2,000 acres of already-protected property in the Purchase area, including Town and State Parks, and several Land Trust Preserves!

We are so grateful to the Dicks family for preserving this spectacular farm. Agricultural conservation easements offer a fantastic farmland conservation tool for farmers and owners of farmland to tap equity in their land without losing their land, and often help to solve Estate planning issues as well.

Farmland protection has always been a central goal for Southbury Land Trust: SLT has done several such Easement acquisitions over the years and look forward to more work keeping agriculture viable in Southbury.


4. Colimitra Property, 20-acres:

Last but not least. Just as we thought we were done with Triage-based acquisition—right before the holidays the 20-acre Colimitra parcel above the Housatonic River that had been in probate for some time was released by the judge to be sold.  

There was imminent development interest on this spectacular river view site.

Fortunately, SLT President Joe Ruggiero had been keeping his eye on it, and SLT was able to step in with a conservation offer— conservation being the owners’ preference.

SLT had been interested in this piece because of its environmental significance—it extends the adjacent Audubon Bent of the River nature sanctuary, protects the Housatonic River ridgeline view, and also protects an active Agricultural Conservation Easement farm parcel belonging to Mitchell Farm that we’d protected back in 2006.

But SLT’s due diligence quickly revealed a surprise: the property’s historic significance. Colimitra is a real time capsule offering a view into Southbury’s history from centuries ago into the early 20th century. This parcel was part of the Pootatuck Tribe Settlement reservation, and experts we’ve consulted suggest that Colimitra may connect to archaeological finds from a 1970s dig in the South Britain area that confirm a local prehistoric indigenous presence dating to as early as 1800 BC.

Colimitra Parcel also opens a window into Southbury’s industrial history: the site once was part of a major Charcoal making operation. Using satellite technology known as LiDAR (Light Detection And Ranging) over 22 charcoal pits, or mounds, are easily identified stretching from Colimitra through the Audubon preserve. Stay tuned for more discovery!

All of these acquisitions tell a story—the story of Southbury. And together with public support and enjoyment of these unique places, we are all continuing this story for future generations.


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