“Just close your eyes and listen,” said Newtown Forest Association President Robert Eckenrode. He stood on an overgrown old farming road beside a stream; its splashing sounds mingled with birdsong and a gentle breeze. Referring to a 1934 aerial photograph of the 27.6-acre parcel at 196 Hattertown Road that the NFA recently purchased, member Bart Smith observed that the area where he and Mr Eckenrode explored Wednesday morning, probably once meadows, remains unchanged. “It’s mostly untouched,” he said, stepping over a fallen tree and approaching a stonewall up a slight rise.
The roughly 27 acres including two streams, ponds and vernal pools, beautiful rolling woodlands, stone walls, and evidence of historical agricultural are now protected by the Newtown Forest Association (NFA). The property will likely be opened for passive recreation in the future.
Mr Eckenrode said the land has “intrinsic natural resource value.” He said in a recent e-mail that when the opportunity arose to purchase the property, “We felt this was a good opportunity for us even though the majority of the over 90 properties we oversee have been donated to us outright.”
The acreage had come on the market in January, and a neighbor alerted the NFA. Mr Eckenrode said, “We were fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right tome to make this happen.”
The purchase price earlier this year was $212,000. “The NFA has a defined set of criteria for accepting land and even higher standards when considering a land purchase,” a press release states. The land met all criteria.
NFA Treasurer Guy Peterson said, “The NFA was presented with a market-driven opportunity and had to react quickly to prevent a developer from exploiting this property with a subdivision.” In a very short time, the NFA was able to raise more than $45,000 in grants and donations, including one $10,000 grant from the Iroquois Gas Pipeline Community Grant program, he said. The balance comes from NFA’s unencumbered funds. The NFA will be fundraising to replenish its Land Acquisition Sinking Fund for the next time another market- driven opportunity may arise, Mr Peterson said.
The 27.6 acres are also within a conservation priority area where NFA board members have hoped to see an increase in land conservation. “Most importantly,” the property has its ecological diversity, the release explains. “The multiple watercourses that traversed the property represent the headwaters for the Pootatuck Aquifer, a source of drinking water for many Newtown residents.”
The Hattertown land is also approximately 600 feet, “as the crow flies,” from the NFA’s 119-acre Hattertown Pond Preserve that is bounded by Aunt Park Lane, Castle Meadow Road, and Maltbie Road.
Over the next few months the NFA will be marking the parcel boundaries, erecting a sign and evaluating the short-term stewardship needs, developing a long-term stewardship plan and define the permitted uses for the property. Despite a road bed extending into the property, there is currently no curb-cut to permit convenient parking — another matter to work through. Similar to most properties, “We would expect to open this preserve up in the future to the public for passive recreational uses only, such as hiking,” the release states.
Most of the NFA’s 1,100 acres have come through donations from philanthropic individuals who desired to see Newtown maintain its rural character. The NFA, as well as other land trusts throughout the country, have seen an accelerated trend to purchase land and conservation easements to continue their land preservation activities.
The Newtown Forest Association is the oldest private land trust in the state. A nonprofit, the NFA is dedicated to accumulating and preserving open space and resources for public enjoyment.