Photo by: Tim Abbott

Kent Land Trust Under Contract to Protect Girl Scout Camp Francis

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Kent Land Trust has agreed to purchase the 253 acre Camp Francis property from the Girl Scouts of Connecticut for $1.5 million. This well-known woodland is located at the end of Kent Hollow Road where it meets Rte 341; approximately 183 acres are in Kent and 70 acres are in Warren.

“This is a critical project for the Town of Kent and for the residents of both Warren and Kent” said First Selectman Bruce Adams. “For many years people have expressed concern about ‘what will happen to Camp Francis?’ As the Girl Scouts’ use of the property declined, virtually all of Kent has worried about the future of this pristine open space in the heart of Kent Hollow. I am really pleased that the Kent Land Trust is taking the lead with this ambitious effort to permanently protect Camp Francis for all the people of Kent.”

 The unique characteristics of the property have also been a focus of Kent’s Plans of Conservation and Development for many years. As early as 1975, the POCD emphasized importance of preserving “critical water resources   … unique and fragile environmental features of statewide significance   …   [and] to conserve scenic vistas.” “The protection of Camp Francis will accomplish a long-standing Town conservation goal.” said Adams.

 The Camp Francis Preserve includes some of the state’s cleanest watercourses and large forested tracts critical for wildlife habitat. Recent bird surveys found at least ten species categorized “at risk” by the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection as a result of habitat loss. There are interior wetlands, extensive nature trails, and even a small area of prime agricultural soil. It also connects a large system of protected land including state forest and land trust conserved land, providing an important opportunity for preserving a regional greenway corridor.

 The camp is beloved by Kent Hollow residents for its stunning views of the clear waters of Beaman Pond, cascading roadside ravine of the West Aspetuck tributary and wooded wilds. It was a major factor which led to the Town of Kent’s s designation of Upper Kent Hollow Road as a scenic road.

 The property is part of the West Aspetuck subwatershed, classified as Class GAA groundwater. Beaman Pond and the two streams within the property are classified as highest-rated AA surface water, making the property an important potential source of public drinking water and critical to local populations of Eastern Brook Trout. The location within the property of the major headwaters of the West Aspetuck River makes its protection essential to the continued superior quality of the watershed as a whole.

 Camp Francis is located within the historic East Kent Hamlet, a Kent Town Character Area. Long before it was a camp, Beaman Pond’s dam powered saw and grist mills helping to drive the commercial industry of East Kent, a settlement and stopover for those involved in iron mining. The site included Morgan’s Forge, built in 1744 and the first in Kent.

 “We will undertake an ambitious campaign to raise the funds to accomplish this purchase, appealing to all possible sources including government and foundation grants as well as private matching contributions.” said Kent Land Trust President Bill Arnold. KLT has applied for an Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition (OSWA) grant from the State of Connecticut and expects to receive a final decision on the grant award in October. “We are also pursuing funding through federal programs and from private sources, and are off to a great start. It is encouraging that, despite economic pressures, Connecticut and the federal government continue to invest in protecting our natural resources and treasured open spaces through programs like OSWA,” Arnold said.

 The OSWA program is connected with Connecticut’s statewide plan to preserve 21% of Connecticut’s land area as open space for public recreation and natural resource conservation and preservation. As Connie Manes, KLT Executive Director explains, “This project epitomizes the goals of the State’s program – to protect land with multiple and complementary natural resources, especially watershed land, and with an emphasis on projects that contribute to larger open spaces by linking previously protected space and through coordinated multi-town efforts. OSWA also places priority on projects which, like Camp Francis, comply with local and regional conservation and development plans.”

 As part of the OSWA program, KLT will grant a conservation easement to the state prohibiting development on the property and providing for public recreational access. “The camp has an extensive system of trails as well as a historic wood road perfect for hiking and bird-watching. Beaman Pond is lovely for small non-motorized watercraft such as kayaks and canoes. We have been told of productive fishing as well,” said Manes.

 The project comes with some management challenges: “The Camp has not been used for several years and the numerous camp structures have fallen into disrepair. Our project budget will include funds necessary to ensure public safety and restore the land to its natural state.” said Arnold.                       

 More than twenty-five community and regional conservation organizations have endorsed the project. Local supporters include the Kent and Warren First Selectmen and Town commissions, the Warren Land Trust and the Mayor of New Milford. Area legislators including Connecticut Sen. Andrew Roraback, Rep. Richard Smith, Rep. Craig Miner, Rep. Roberta Willis, Rep. Clark Chapin, and Congressman Christopher Murphy have also written to support the project.

 Further support is provided by regional organizations including the Northwest Connecticut Council of Governments, Highlands Coalition Connecticut State Committee, Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage Area, and two organizations - Weantinoge Heritage Land Trust and the Litchfield Hills Greenprint program of the Housatonic Valley Association –which have recently partnered with the Kent Land Trust and others on a regional conservation effort for the Aspetuck River Watershed. Executive Director Catherine Rawson said “Weantinoge wholeheartedly supports the purchase of this land   …   We recognize the importance of protecting this unique and vital property, which provides critical wildlife habitat, scenic natural beauty, and protects a reach of the West Aspetuck River.”

 Litchfield Hills Greenprint Collaborative Greenprint Director Tim Abbott said “This is an outstanding opportunity of such national prominence that it is highlighted in Connecticut’s FY14 Highlands Conservation Act funding submission. It is recognized as a regional conservation priority by many organizations, including the Greenprint.”  The Greenprint previously engaged with the Girl Scouts on an agreement protect 311 acres in Norfolk, and the Camp Francis project compliments that effort.

Although the Girl Scouts have not used the camp in several years, it figured prominently in the organizational mission to empower girls to serve their communities, experience the outdoors, and develop self-reliance and resourcefulness.  Beginning in 1930, generations of girls sought summer refuge from the Stamford area bustle at the wooded Kent retreat. There they learned about nature, outdoor survival skills, and camaraderie. Kent resident Charlotte Lindsey recalls, “Our family lived in Darien where there was a Naval Base which mandated the need for a corps of Civilian Defense volunteers, black-out curtains, air raid rehearsals in school. For many of us children, these activities and LIFE magazine invoked fear of Hitler and Tojo—danger!  Camp Francis, for me in those years, was a place of safety and peace … I will always treasure the memories of its offerings and the two summers that I attended Camp Francis.”

 The Kent Land Trust is a nonprofit community conservation organization which draws its priorities from those expressed by the people of Kent. KLT has adopted the Town’s stated “Character Areas”, so designated because of their significance to the town’s cultural and rural history, and the lasting aspects of a small northwestern Connecticut landscape. Over the past 23 years KLT has protected over 2500 acres within Kent. In 2010, it became the second land trust in Connecticut to be accredited by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission.  KLT partners with other local conservation organizations, and is a member of the Litchfield Hills Greenprint, the Connecticut Land Conservation Council, and the national Land Trust Alliance.  In addition to direct protection efforts, KLT provides exemplary care and management of its properties including habitat restoration, ecological study, and control of invasive plants. Public programs include its Community Conservation Picnic, sponsorship of a Community Garden on land trust property, and special workshops and hikes throughout the year. Its activities are largely funded by private donations and conducted by volunteers. For further information, call the Kent Land Trust at 860-488-9185 or email info@kentlandtrust.org.

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Photo by: Tim Abbott