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Remarks by Sidney Van Zandt at Merritt Bench Dedication

Welcome to you all: To the Merritts, Nelson, his daughters Susan, Nancy, and Debra, to Tom & Hannah Treuer and John & Carly Matroienni.

I hope to introduce you to some of the folks that were able to be here today that have been involved in GOSA, and who have done so much to transform this beautiful place.

I would like to lay praise on our President Joan Smith who was very active in GOSA’s intervening in the developers plans for this place. But most important she created the massive collection of documents that made up the grant application to the Department of Environmental Protection. This was particularly difficult as the developers with an option on the land would not allow us access until we owned the land on May 16, 2008. The winning of that grant then allowed us to move forward in what ended up being over five years of legal activities, but we finally wore them down.

Whitney Adams, a Director of GOSA, began hacking away at this former victory garden turned invasive jungle. He is such a pied piper and it wasn’t long before he met Charlie Boos exploring the Merritt (who is now also a GOSA Director), and the two of them began work added to by Si Borys from across the Street, new Director Rebecca Brewer, Betsy Maltby, Jim Hansen, and so many others.

Very important to this program is Adrienne Loweth who was working on a WHIP grant over in the City of Groton. She helped us get the forms filled, got contacts with only a week left to apply. We were lucky as we got a 3-year grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) of the Department of Agriculture called WHIP (Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program). The expert we hired to oversee the project was Charlie Boos and the NRCS person is Fernando Rincon. (Fernando is also overseeing a 5 year WHIP program we have just been awarded at the Sheep Farm that we acquired early this year.) The number of volunteer hours that many of us have put in to transform this field have been huge.

Also here are Tim and Kate Pratt whose Mother, Priscilla, our late GOSA President, lead us so diligently through over 8 years of endeavoring to Save this land from being clear cut and filled with up to 79 houses. Sarah Holmes of the Univ. of Connecticut, Avery Point has begun research of history of this land with her students.

Syma Ebbin, another Board member is here. Elected officials Senator Andrew Maynard and Representative, Ellisa Wright have given us support through all these many years of ongoing efforts. Fred and Eleanor Fischer worked magic as they contacted Foundations to help us in our fundraising efforts.

In closing I’d like to mention a young gal named Miquelle from Pawcatuck who instead of receiving birthday presents wanted to help a conservation project. She came here early on in the project one sunny afternoon with her one year old in a frame on her back and watched Whitney and Charlie demonstrate some of the new tools we had just purchased. Joan was over under those trees clearing cut piles. “You know” she said, “YOU COULD REALLY MAKE A DIFFERENCE HERE!” So a few weeks later about 15 additional people joined our stewardship group- her parents, her friends and the little son on her back. She brought and set up two large tables. One had food and beverage, the other had information and maps, and forms, and sign-up sheets. They all then set to work pulling up and clipping, and moving piles.

I have an e-mail from Jim Furlong, our former director who was a very important part of the many years of activity and negotiations and particularly with getting this bench installed. He said:

From Jim Furlong on October 2, 2011

Hello Mr. Merritt,

I am pleased that the bench, long in planning and construction, will be dedicated soon. It is well built, with the two supports fixed by:

– – indentation into the underside of the bench slab
– – connecting rods
– – epoxy adhesives.

The supports were deeply embedded in cement-filled holes in the ground long before the bench was installed.
The bench should last into the foreseable future.

Just for your information, I stepped down as a director of GOSA on August 1 in order to pursue private projects, and will not be able to attend the dedication because of associated commitments. However, I feel deep satisfaction that this capstone of The Merritt Family Forest preservation finally has been put into place and is being celebrated.

GOSA and F.L. Merritt Inc. had a long struggle after you told me at 7:30 AM on March 22, 2003*, that you had “decided to go with” GOSA. Ultimate victory would not have been possible without your steadfastness throughout the nearly five-year legal dispute that followed. It has been a pleasure to work with you.

GOSA Vice-President, Sidney Van Zandt, who played the lead role in private fund-raising for the acquisition, is organizing the dedication, as you know. It is logical that she should be your “go-to” person at GOSA in the event of questions or problems in the future. I always will take a strong personal interest in the property, of course.

All the best,

Jim Furlong

* on March 22, 2003 Mary Merritt had a heart attack. It was at that time in the hospital that the Merritts decided “to go with GOSA” to save the forest rather than have the woodland clear cut and filled with houses. (comments S Van Zandt)

We also have put together a booklet that includes the photos, and trail map, provided by Whitney as well as a list of flora by Whitney, Charlie, and others of the stewardship committee. There is a list of birds sighted. There is a history by Nelson that you put together for us. The cover map provided for us by Rusty Warner, tells the story of the importance of The Merritt Family Forest because it is the “Keystone” for connecting the greenbelt in our town.

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