GROTON–The Groton Open Space Association is working at high speed through heavy winter weather to prepare the newly acquired Sheep Farm on Hazelnut Hill Road for public use.
Eight buildings on the property, including two houses, a barn, and sheds, are to be demolished before the site is deemed safe for visitors. Asbestos and lead paint from some buildings have been identified and are being removed by a specialist and disposed of as hazardous materials. An in-ground oil tank has been drained and removed.
While specialized jobs — like demolition and tank and HAZMAT removal — are being handled by contractors hired by GOSA, volunteers have assisted by removing snow from the driveway and cutting trees and heavy brush to allow access by equipment. GOSA volunteers also have pulled out rusty wire fencing that would be hazardous to the public. For safety reasons, the site currently is posted with no-trespassing signs, and the buildings are marked “Keep Out.” One of the buildings, a former barn, is near collapse following the heavy snows of January and February.
Joan Smith, GOSA president and coordinator of the remediation effort, said the current goal is to have the property ready by early March.
GOSA has been awarded a total of $616,500 toward the $878,500 purchase price by the state’s Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Grant Program and the DEP/Long Island Sound Fund. However, GOSA must meet state requirements for public use before actually collecting the money. Because of this timing consideration, GOSA made use of a bridge loan from The Conservation Fund of Arlington, Virginia, to close on the 63-acre property Dec. 14, 2010.
The Sheep Farm’s agricultural and industrial history dates back to the early 1700s, and it was active as a sheep farm until about 2000. (The collapsing building still contains some sheared wool.)
The farm’s rugged land, Mountain Laurel forest, meadows and highly productive wetlands, with three major and two minor vernal pools, provide ideal habitat for a wide array of plant, bird, amphibian and other species. The land is crossed by Fort Hill Brook, which spills over a 10-foot waterfall on the property, on its way to Mumford Cove. For more Sheep Farm information, click here.
Once GOSA gets the official go-ahead, the land — under GOSA’s stewardship — will be open to the public in perpetuity under terms of an easement held by the state.