Laurel Ridge

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Laurel Ridge Hike 8-23

Creating a Legacy: Laurel Ridge

The Winsted community has the once-in-a-generation opportunity to take action to protect and preserve Highland Lake forever. Through a partnership of forward-thinking individuals, the Highland Lake Watershed Association and the Winchester Land Trust are working together to secure funding to purchase Laurel Ridge – 508 acres of forested land on the east side of Highland Lake. This property, owned by an LLC, is currently in the state’s 490 forest program and is not for sale for development.

The Winchester Land Trust (WLT), in partnership with the Highland Lake Watershed Association (HLWA), is applying to the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) for an Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition (OSWA) Grant to help us protect and preserve 508 acres of land between Route 800 and East Wakefield Boulevard. WLT will be the owners of Laurel Ridge.

The missions of these two nonprofit organizations align:

The Highland Lake Watershed’s mission is to encourage the restoration and conservation of the natural resources of the Highland Lake Watershed as well as to protect and conserve fish and wildlife, forest and other plant life, water sources and soils. We promote the understanding among citizens of the Town of Winchester of the need for such restoration and conservation to provide a legacy for the future.

The Winchester Land Trust serves as steward of the town’s rural character and open spaces, striving to foster the preservation of Winchester’s unique lands and natural resources forever. The trust informs and educates the community to promote the benefits of land conservation for balanced growth.

There are many threats to the health of Highland Lake. HLWA works closely with the Town of Winsted to monitor water quality and to identify and respond to any changes in water quality. Every one of us is responsible for the health of the lake. Being a responsible property owner is a critical line of defense. The roads and catch basins around the lake threaten the health of the lake, and it is unlikely major action to improve them will happen anytime soon. Open, protected forested land in the watershed will add a significant layer of defense.

Northeast Aquatic Research’s 2020 Water Quality Report and Long-Term Assessment states the following:

“Based on the Connecticut DEEP lake trophic categories, Highland Lake is defined as oligomesotrophic bordering on mesotrophic. Total phosphorus in the surface waters rarely exceeds 20ppb and the yearly average in surface waters rarely exceeds 15ppb. However, surface water TP concentrations in recent years (2016 to 2020) are, on average, ~2ppb higher than historical surface water concentrations. Total nitrogen in the surface waters has not exceeded 250ppb on record since 1979, and for the past seven years the yearly average has remained near or below 200ppb. Water clarity in the lake typically remains better than 3 meters, with the yearly average falling between approximately 3 meters and 5 meters over the past 16 years. These data suggest the lake condition is relatively good overall.

“In the absence of efforts to reduce nutrient loads, the lake condition will inevitably worsen over time at a faster rate than would occur in a natural, undeveloped landscape.”

The Highland Lake community has the fortunate and increasingly rare opportunity to proactively protect the lake from accelerating decline by making improvements to the watershed.”

(The full report can be found at www.hlwa.org under the Lake Information tab, Highland Lake Info.)

The purchase price is $2.2 million. The maximum amount we could receive from the State and Federal grants is 90% of the purchase price. We are working on the OSWA grant which is due on October 2, 2023. Applicants will be notified in spring 2024 if they will receive a grant. If the OSWA award is granted, we then apply for the Federal Highlands Conservation grant.

There are additional expenses including legal, grant writer, Yellow Book appraisal, survey and more at an estimated cost of $120,000.

Our goal is raise $340,000 through private donations and small grants.
Projected property purchase closing is summer 2025.

This is a long and difficult process, and we are hopeful Laurel Ridge receives the maximum amount allowed by both the state and federal government. Raising an additional $340,000 is critical to the viability and success of this project. Naming rights for trails, clearings and more will be available. In the coming months you will learn more about the project and how and when the fundraising campaign will unfold. If you would like to learn more on how you can help, please contact bethpapermaster@gmail.com .

In the future, we will need your help to clean trails and volunteer to be a Laurel Ridge Steward.

Together we can protect Highland Lake and its watershed for generations!

Laurel Ridge Team

Candy Perez, HLWA President
Beth Papermaster, HLWA Project Manager
Jen Perga, WLT President
Shelley Harms, Grant Writer
Jeff Smith, Attorney

Facts about Laurel Ridge

  • Laurel Ridge is a critical part of the Highland Lake and Still River watersheds.
  • Maintaining it as Open Space will help ensure Highland Lake stays healthy and clean for the enjoyment of Winsted citizens, as well as the many out-of-town people who travel to fish, swim, and enjoy water activities on Highland Lake.
  • Good water quality maintains high property values of homes around the lake, which contribute roughly 1/3 of the Town’s grand list.
  • The Still River is labeled as “impaired” by DEEP. Keeping land forested in the Still River’s watershed reduces polluted runoff and enables the ecosystem to recover.
  • There are 508 acres with frontage on Route 800 and East Wakefield Boulevard.
  • There are seven intermittent streams flowing directly into Highland Lake.
  • It protects the health of Highland Lake and the Still River with dense trees working to naturally filter water and runoff.
  • It supports an amazing variety of wildlife and plants. The State’s Natural Diversity Database documents two rare, State-listed species of plants on the property, one of which is the New England sedge which lives in seepage swamps. The Eastern Pond Mussel in nearby Highland Lake is another Species of Special Concern.
  • The clean waters of Highland Lake serve as a vital stopover for species such as Mergansers (seen in the hundreds), Gadwalls, Shovelers and Ruddy Ducks. In the summer, Belted Kingfisher, Bald Eagles and Osprey are observed.
  • Storied Winsted history – Laurel Ridge was home to the Carey Racetrack on Pratt Hill, the outline of which is still visible.
  • It is an important connectivity for a very large wilderness corridor. To the south, across large parcels of undeveloped 490 land, is the extensive Paugnut State Forest and Burr Pond State Park. To the west, Laurel Ridge connects to many parcels owned by WLT and HLWA including the five-acre Stevens Preserve and 25-acre Cannavo Woods (connected via HLWA preserved parcels).
  • Laurel Ridge is nearly all core forest. The understory is dominated by mountain laurel.
  • WLT will create public hiking trails so people can enjoy the new preserve via hiking, birdwatching, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing.
  • It’s consistent with the Town Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD). The 2021 POCD states a primary goal of protecting the town’s natural resources, in particular its water bodies and drinking water. The POCD emphasizes the importance of preserving more open space to protect Winchester’s community character and quality of life. It places high value on connecting existing open spaces to form a system of greenways and on preserved open space that is available for the public to enjoy.
  • Laurel Ridge provides Winsted residents and visitors a scenic ridgeline to be enjoyed from land (on Route 8) and water (on Highland Lake).
  • Winsted will become a premier day-trip destination with many new hiking trails. By connecting to the Sue Grossman Greenway, visitors will have easy access to Laurel Ridge and many exciting trails.
  • There will be significant carbon absorption by the multitude of trees.
  • Laurel Ridge contains phosphorus that would be released through soil disruption if developed. Phosphorus would contribute to weed and algae growth in Highland Lake and the Still River.
  • Downstream waters in the Mad River, Still River and Farmington River will have an added layer of protection.
  • Laurel Ridge protects the economic contributions of Highland Lake to all Winsted residents.

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