NEW MILFORD — Environmental advocates and officials are anticipating the transfer to town ownership of the Native Meadows Preserve.
The transfer from the Northwest Conservation District is to be finalized in coming weeks, with a grand opening expected later this fall. The 25-acre parcel lies between Route 7 and the Housatonic River north of Veterans Bridge.
“It’s a natural central park for New Milford,” said Curtis Read, chairman of the Northwest Conservation Commission and Bridgewater’s first selectman. “It’s beautiful.”
When the property became available, the conservation district was unable to buy it. The New Milford Affordable Housing Trust stepped in to help, buying the land in 2009 for $250,000, using it as a drainage easement. The conservation district was able to buy it a year later for $260,000, but let the trust keep the easement, Read said.
The district’s purchase money came from from the Natural Resources Damage Fund, which was created after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency fined General Electric for polluting the Housatonic River with polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs.
Conservation efforts began shortly afterward, with the group removing invasive plants and replacing them with native species.
The land has been an environmental asset in town for years, Read said.
When the Native Americans sold the land to settlers in the early 1700s to create New Milford, they kept this tract of land because it was good farmland, which they used to grow corn. The water table is just below the surface and is replenished by floods.
“This is an area that is important to wildlife, migrating wildlife, riverine species, but the most important aspect part of this property is that it’s there for flood protection and aquifer protection,” Read said. “It’s in the direct recharge zone of the wells that serve New Milford.”
Read said it was important for this land to remain undeveloped to filter water before it enters the aquifer.
Eventually, the land will have walking paths and interpretive signs.
“There will be a trail network that you could wind through this native wonderland,” Read said.
Mayor David Gronbach praised the conservation effort at a Town Council meeting.
“This is exactly in line with what New Milford is doing with restoring the waterfront and opening up access to the waterfront,” he said.
He said the Parks and Recreation Department is familiar with the property and has mowed some of the trails this year. He expect maintenance to be minimal, with only a few mowings each year. A parking lot was added along Route 7 this year.
“We can let the natural beauty speak for itself,” he said.