President’s Annual Report 2020

December 14, 2020

2020 has been a challenging year for all of us. The world has been hit hard by a global pandemic, economic recession, and political turmoil. The good news is that GOSA, as a land trust, has been able to meet the increased demand for convenient and safe places for public outdoor recreation. GOSA welcomed a record number of visitors, new members and volunteers this year. Thankfully, our natural areas and open spaces have remained available to the public for exercise, mental health, fresh air, and a chance to meet outdoors.

GOSA’s large properties and long trails provide almost unlimited space for social distancing, hours-long adventures, and escape from the stresses of isolation, news and social media. Rock outcrops, brooks and ravines appear especially beautiful in winter, enhanced by reduced foliage and snow and ice patterns. Dress warmly, go outdoors, and look for overwintering birds, animal tracks, nesting cavities, patterns of bark and other signs of life. You might be lucky enough to spot a pileated woodpecker, kestrel, owl pellet or the shredded bark of a bobcat-scratched tree.

Although the pandemic has restricted our indoor and large group activities, we have been able to stay in business by using technology to convene our annual and board meetings online. While we missed the camaraderie of gathering with friends at our spring gala, Trails Day and First Day hikes, stream-dipping and other educational events, we know that this pandemic, too, shall pass, and we will meet again.

In the meantime, our volunteers have been active supporters of GOSA, while effectively socially distancing. This year, they led small group tours for garden, botanic, birding, chamber of commerce and senior organizations.  They hosted a safe endurance and fun run with lively DJ music and special hand-made awards. They provided the governance needed to maintain GOSA’s corporate, 501©3, and state charitable organizational status. They generated financial reports, 990 IRS reports, donor correspondence, and essential and enduring-value corporate records. They maintained social media platforms, generated printed materials. Remember, all this work has been performed without paid professional staff.

Stewardship volunteers have donated thousands of hours this year to maintaining trails, fields, forests, shrubby areas, pollinator gardens and thickets. Organized work parties have averaged 12-15 volunteers per week, plus small groups have performed boundary marking, trail blazing, and construction of bog bridges, signs, bluebird and kestrel nesting boxes.

GOSA volunteers have also collaborated with and shared expertise with local organizations: Mystic and North Stonington Garden Clubs sponsored our pollinator gardens; New England Mountain Biking Association of South Eastern Connecticut sponsored a bog bridge at the Merritt Family Forest. Tri-Town-Trail Association requested a GOSA botany and stewardship consultation for its northern trail section. The Connecticut Botanic Society held a mini-bio blitz at the Avery Farm powerline corridor. The Mudheads sailing club has displayed a festive buoy holiday tree along Elm street at Beebe Cove Vista.

GOSA does not have professional staff to help us raise the millions of dollars needed to save land. We have come close to raising the $1,000,000 needed to acquire the 104-acre Sheep Farm South property, and we plan to close in early 2021. Our annual appeal will help us cross the finish line to save this beautiful property.

Thank-you to all our members, donors and volunteers for your support. Together, we will continue to preserve special places in our beautiful little corner of Connecticut.

Joan Smith
Groton Open Space Association, Inc

Photo Credits: Rick Kollmeyer, Bill Pratt, Joan Smith

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Bill Kroll Remembrance, August 23, 2020

December 14, 2010 at the Sheep Farm closing: Joan Smith, GOSA President, Bill Kroll, GOSA attorney, Michael Tansley, Groton Lenders attorney, Sidney Van Zandt, GOSA Vice President, Sue Sutherland, GOSA Treasurer

We at GOSA are sad to report the passing of Bill Kroll, GOSA’s dedicated and beloved attorney, in August of 2020. He was the son of Charlie Kroll, a former GOSA board member, whose last words to him were to “take care of those people.” He did, and we are very grateful.  Bill was smart, tough, strategic, thorough, tenacious and kind, a good person to have your side. Bill loved to drive, and never let a long commute from Georgia in later years stop him. Bill told us that he maintained his Connecticut license so he could continue his GOSA practice.

Although a tough lawyer, Bill and his wife Donna were softies in the personal realm.  They could not resist rescuing abused and neglected pets. They adopted a large household menagerie, and transported other pets long distances to new homes.

Bill helped GOSA defend our contract to purchase what is now the Merritt Family Forest against a lawsuit filed on April 15, 2003, by Ravenswood, a competing developer. A lis pendens was placed on the property, preventing any sale, until the suit could be resolved. The case took five years to work its way through superior court and the appeals court in Hartford. Bill led us successfully through a jury trial, pro bono, at superior court, and then arranged the referral to a young Beth Leamon to represent GOSA in appellate court. In January, 2008, the court ultimately decided in favor of GOSA, and with great relief and fanfare, GOSA returned to raising funds and closed on the property in December 2008.

Bill continued his loyal service to GOSA for twelve more years. He drove long distances from his new homes in Salem and in Georgia, thriving with the commute in his prized cars. He always took on GOSA’s contracts and closings for a minimal fee, and never charged for phone calls, emails and simple legal reviews.

Bill was a fighter for GOSA’s legal rights, and against his own health challenges. He dedicated his seeming nine lives to GOSA, vintage cars, animal welfare and family. He was an important member of the GOSA community, who will be sorely missed.

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To our GOSA Members and Friends,

Now is the best time to enjoy the outdoors on GOSA trails and the perfect way to celebrate Earth Day! GOSA properties and trails are free to visit and open to the public from dawn to dusk. We have been seeing many old friends and meeting new ones out on the trails. We are so happy that you’re visiting!

Today, we could really use your help:

Tonight would have been our Earth Day Fundraiser for the acquisition of the Sheep Farm South. For the past year, GOSA has been raising funds for the purchase of this 104-acre property. We are very appreciative of everyone who has donated towards this acquisition and for the grants we have received; however, we still have a long way to go. By March 2021 GOSA needs to raise an additional $250,000 to complete our purchase and sale agreement.

Even though tonight’s major fundraiser was canceled, we hope that you will help us with our mission and donate towards the Sheep Farm South property acquisition. Every dollar counts! (

The purchase of Sheep Farm south is instrumental in the green belt GOSA is trying to form. It will adjoin our original Sheep Farm Property and form 167-acres of trails, connecting to The Merritt Family Forest, Haley Farm and Bluff Point. If you haven’t visited these properties, be sure to check out the “Take a Hike” page on our website, to learn about all the GOSA trails and plan your next outing.

We hope you have been able to take advantage of all the open space our region offers, especially in times like these, and that you will join us in our efforts to raise funds for the purchase of this property.

GOSA Board of Directors


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EARTH DAY came 50 years ago on April 22, 1970 by Sidney Van Zandt

The first Earth Day held in Groton was produced by a newly formed organization called the Environmental Education Committee (EEC) It was headed by the late David McKain, an English professor at University of CT, Avery Point, and Sidney F. Van Zandt, President of the Groton Open Space Association (GOSA). The group was formed to put on Earth Day as well as to educate about the problems of pollution and be a “watchdog” in support of a quality environment in this area. The members consisted of everyone who cared, as well as the local Conservation Groups made up of students of local schools from Elementary to Jr. High and Fitch High schools as well as near-by colleges.  The group was formed to put on Earth Day activities at the University of CT, Avery Point. and they continued promoting the environment action and opposing inappropriate development that continued on for over 50 years.

That sunny warm day there was a “row-in and paddle” down the Thames River, Birch Plain Creek, Baker Cove, the Poquonnock River, Palmer Cove, and the Mystic River, around Bluff Point to Avery Point. Boat trips were given to go to Pine Island for instructive talks by Robert Dewire of the then Thames Science Center.

Afternoon workshops and panel discussions were conducted on air, water, noise pollution, land use, zoning, environmental law, pesticides, and population growth.  Other events were at Mitchell College about “the little man’s contribution to pollution.” Also covered were litter, problems of DDT, water and air pollution , as well as use of natural resources. A tree planting ceremony by Connecticut College students was held at Patchaug State Forest to protest the location there of the proposed “Jetport Industrial City”. Over 4,500 signatures against the Jetport were collected during those events.

Earth Day was a great success drawing more than 500 persons for the morning and afternoon events. Earth Day #2 the next year, on April 22, 1971, was held again at Avery Point with all day activities.

The (EEC) met weekly and they produced an “Environmental Guide” to help provide solutions for composting, biodegradable soap, where to purchase beverage in returnable bottles, landfill hours, bus schedules, etc. They coordinated non-credit courses, Ecology Clubs, courses at local schools and colleges.

A group of K-6 teachers put together an ”Ecology Curriculum”, which was a teaching guide for each class. Each section had a theme. K-2 was total overview; 3 was Forest, 4= Field, 5= marsh, and 6= Pond.  These books were presented to each teacher in K-6, in 7 local school systems that included Montville and Waterford. Each teacher received the chapter for their grade; each school library received the full book.

The students began the first recycling in the Town of Groton by placing three barrels across from Fitch High School at Public Works. They had one each for clear, green, and brown glass. also at Jr. High Schools, and numerous local stores.  People from town began filling the barrels; more were needed. The glass needed to be broken up to be delivered to Dayville for recycling. They then added containers for metal as well as paper.  It was so successful that the town had to take it over.

After Earth Day 2, a food coop was formed for organic and bulk products.  In Mystic “The Good Bread Bakery” began offering options to “spongy foam bread”, and “The Mischievous Carrot” was a vegetarian restaurant. Efforts were made to promote protection of the wetlands (sometimes then called “wastelands”), with efforts locally and up with the legislature in Hartford.

However, there were many other issues going on before April 22 1970. In 1963 the land known as the Haley Farm came up for sale, and the developer wanted to build duplex housing there for the Coast Guard so as to move them farther from the noise that would be at Avery Point where they were located, as the FAA was planning to expand our local airport to handle overflow flights from New York’s Kennedy Airport. After much objection from local residents, the Zoning application was overturned and a new organization was formed called “The Groton Open Space Association” (GOSA) to “Save the Haley Farm”. As both the Town Planning and The Regional Planning felt that its best use was “housing”, we then turned to the State who said that if we would raise $50,000 (the Town’s portion of an Open Space Grant) they would buy it as it abutted the 250 acres that they had purchased at Bluff Point in 1963.

In May of 1968 a major fund raising event called “Three Hundred years on the Haley Farm” was held at Fitch High School with the spring meeting of the CT Forest & Park Association, (the state-wide organization that voted to act as an umbrella organization to help us with fundraising). The gathering included State officials and residents. Local students lead tours. Following that event, fund raising began all over town with church suppers, car washes. Then Fitch teacher, Johnny Kelly, along with one of his former students, Amby Burfoot, both former Boston Marathon winners, proposed a Rock Concert to be held at the largest facility in town, the City Municipal Building and Mayor Sharp had difficulty with saying yes. (This was four months after the huge “Woodstock Concert”.) But finally he did. That really hit the news in all the local papers and allowed us to go over the top at our March 1, 1970 deadline of $50,000 (in today’s dollars over $350,000). Earth Day was one month later. Life Magazine in their July 4, 1970 issue (and again in early August) had a story called “Battles Won” that featured eight successful battles from all across the country, and Haley Farm was one of them.

However there were many other issues going on at the same time. **

Threats to Bluff Point:

*  The town developed a new sewer program including north to the sub base. The effluent was dumped directly into Mumford Cove. The DEEP told the town that all shellfishing would be banned forever from Ram Island to the Thames River. After 8 days of hearings, the town was ordered in 1975 to send the outfall via city streets to the Thames which had strong currents to disburse the effluent. (The town did nothing till 1985 when residents of Mumford Cove took them to court.)

*  The State proposed the Martin-Fine Plan that called for filling in the marshes behind the beach for a 5,000-car parking lot plus Coney Island-type facilities for the 3,000 feet of very narrow beach.

*  Grandiose plans were promoted for an East-West highway along Rt. 1 from Long Hill across to Fort Hill and perhaps to Mystic; a 4-lane highway from Rt. 395 to 95 down 117, through Fort Hill Homes, over the RR, down to the point to meet NY planner, Robert Moses’ bridge from LI.**

*  An application for a 400-boat marina on the Poquonnock River including a gas station was OK’d by the town, but was strongly opposed at the many hearings.

*  The Federal Energy Administration (FEA) had a plan for a strategic reserve for underground oil reserve requiring removal of 650,000 cubic yards of rock from the ridge for 3 underground oil chambers as well as a dockage for barges was turned down by local environmental organizations and the (DEP) Department of Environmental Protection.

*  Housing for about 400 homes in the southeastern section was proposed that would have required the town to purchase additional land and construction for schools.

*  Industrial development of the northern upper acres was Ok’d by the town, later purchased by the state and is now used for parking.

*  There was a proposed shipping- terminal-container- port proposal to cut through Bushy Point to deliver barges up Birch Plain Creek to meet train or plane.

*  Proposal for Helicopter Emergency landing area.

*  Expansion of the Airport threatening to close off Pine Island Bay to most boat traffic.

1972: Legislature formed the “Bluff Point Advisory Council” (BPAC) to come up with a plan for the “highest and best use” of the peninsula. There were 21 representatives from elected officials, the sciences, and environmental community. Co-Chair were Omar Allvord and Sidney F. Van Zandt.

January 1974: Republican Governor Thomas Meskill condemns Bluff Point, the last undeveloped piece of Connecticut shoreline to be saved for “Open Space”. (nearly 800 acres)

May 1975: The Legislature passes the Bluff Point Coastal Reserve Bill, signed by Democratic Governor Ella Grasso, June 19, 1975.

1984: Another proposition was made by Groton officials to use BP as a Town Beach. Commissioner Stanley Pac comments: “Unalterably opposed”, “Keep Bluff Point as it is”; “This is Open Space”, “without the dune grass, the entire sandy peninsula will disappear”!

2002: Upper 57 acres of the Haley Farm were purchased by Republican Governor John Rowland using “Recreation and Natural Resources Funds” (32 years after the lower property was saved.)

2002: The two parks were tied together by a bridge 115 feet long and 9 feet wide during Amtrak’s 5-year railway electrification project joining Haley Farm and Bluff Point, over 1,000 acres of coastal land saved and protected forever.**

Since then GOSA has been purchasing land for open space – (for maps go to and click on “properties).  There have also been Earth Day gatherings, many at Avery Point where Environmental organizations have displayed tables and maps showing what was going on, what projects needed action. Except for this year because of the corona virus. However, every year one could look to the east at the wild peninsula called Bluff Point and beyond is Haley Farm that we all have visited, helped with the stewardship, over the years can say, “We have Made a Difference”. What a great celebration.                     *          *          *          *

Extra resources:
**The Day, April 10, 1976, “Groton Grapevine” by Jim Irvine
** The Day, April 2, 2017: “Groton Open Space Association marks 50 years of Conservation” by Steve Fagin.
** The Day 9.14.99:  Amtrak footbridge to link state parks in Groton:

The History Room in the Groton Library has about a dozen large scrapbooks telling the tale of all these events. (Put together by Sidney F. Van Zandt)

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Sheep Farm South Fundraiser

This is the Public Kick-Off of our fundraising efforts for our newest acquisition, Sheep Farm South!

The need for, and importance of, Open Spaces has never been more clear than in these past few weeks.
We hope you have been able to take advantage of all the open space our region offers, especially in times like this!

You can help GOSA add an additional 104 acres to the 63 acre Sheep Farm, forming 167-acres of land and trails, which will connect to The Merritt Family Forrest, Haley Farm and Bluff Point… a north- south greenbelt for people and habitat!

We hope that you will join us in our efforts to raise funds for the purchase of this property.
Please donate today!
Looking for an activity?
On Earth Day, or any other day during Earth Month, take a walk, send a photo of the outdoor space you chose to us to [email protected], or on Facebook, then make your donation in support of the purchase of Sheep Farm South!

All donations made will go toward the purchase of the Sheep Farm South!

Be sure to check out the “Take a Hike” page to learn about all of GOSA’s trails to plan your next outing.

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Annual Dinner and Silent Auction Postponed to Fall

Our members and friends are the most important asset  Groton Open Space Association has.

Based on CDC guidelines and the recent actions of Governor Lamont closing restaurants and events for groups over 50, we are cancelling our Annual Dinner and Silent Auction.

We have been working for several weeks with the Mystic Marriott, and we hope to reschedule this event to the fall perhaps to coincide with our Annual Meeting.

Many thanks to our Sponsors and to our many Silent Auction donors.

Please feel free to write to us at [email protected]

Our trails are open and nature calls!

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Before and After – Work Party January 2nd, 2020

The GOSA Stewardship crew is hard at work as 2020 begins. Eleven members of the GOSA stewardship team met at the Sheep Farm for a highly productive and visually rewarding work party! Under sunny skies, Bruce, Chet and Dan O. began brush-hogging the abundant meadows, while John used an attack mower to clear less dense areas of the meadows. They made great headway into this time-consuming task, and the finished areas look great!

In the meantime, Vicki, Joan, Marie, Lynn, Mark, Paul and Dan N. worked on the red trail in the area of the overlook. Paul and Mark felled several trees, while the rest of the group tackled the greenbrier and removed fallen branches and other detritus from the site. Jim was a great help bringing oil for the busy pole saws and taking one of our cantankerous attack mowers to Johnson’s True Value, Groton, for repair. The rock wall has now been exposed and the site looks beautiful.

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1st Day Hike

GOSA participated in the CT DEEP State Parks 2020 First Day Hikes in CT by hosting a 2.8 mile rugged hike on the Candlewood Hill Wildlife Management Area in Groton. We were pleasantly surprised when 54 people joined us and Channel 3 News stopped by for a photo op!

The weather couldn’t have been better and everyone felt it was a great way to start the New Year!

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