The January 5, 7 p.m. meeting of the Common Council will be an important one for several reasons and public attendance is very important. The position of Environmental Planner needs to have funding restored. For information on that issue, readers can visit http://thejonahcenter.org/?p=388
But right now, let’s focus on Mt. Higby. For many years, even decades, the City of Middletown has worked to preserve completely this dramatically beautiful and ecologically significant area between Middletown and Meriden. In the past, Council Commissions have supported various steps toward the purchase of the 110 acre Pierce Property, high on the ridge above Country Club Road to the north and Rte 91 to the west. This acquisition would finally preserve from development virtually the entire trap rock ridge and allow the Mattabesset “Blue Trail” to follow the ridge line where it was formerly located.
Now the City can make the dream become a reality. A purchase price of $686,000 has been negotiated, and a state grant of $234,750 has been awarded. The remaining $451,250 needs to be appropriated by the Common Council for the acquisition to occur.
$451,250 is a significant amount for the Common Council to appropriate, and doing so requires the support of citizens and stakeholder groups. For the past 4 years, a number of nonprofit groups and City commissions – known collectively as the Environmental Collective Impact Network, or Ecoin – have urged the Mayor and Common Council to support an open space bond referendum so that funds for such opportunities would be available. We have not had a voter referendum for open space preservation since 2009; instead, the city’s leaders have voiced a preference to appropriate funds for open space on a case by case basis, as key properties become available. The Pierce Property is such a key property.
Facts and Reasons to Preserve the Pierce Property
· The property is situated within a Greenway Corridor.
· City ownership of this property would bring almost the whole of Higby Mountain under City control.
· The New England National Scenic Trail, which abuts the property, has the potential to be rerouted along the ridgeline.
· There is strong support from local and state organizations for this acquisition.
· The property abuts existing City owned property as well as property managed by the Nature Conservancy as a nature preserve. Protecting large contiguous parcels of open space for wildlife habitat, watershed protection, and recreation is a major conservation goal.
· The property offers unique aesthetic, education, natural resources and wildlife habitat value not otherwise available on a majority of parcels within the City.
· Connecticut Forest and Parks has express strong interest in assisting the City with trail stewardship.
· It has been recommended for acquisition since the 1968 Open Space Plan.
Middletown’s 1990 Plan of Conservation and Development states: “Mount Higby, with the possible exception of the Connecticut River, is the most prominent natural feature in the city. From Interstate 91 Higby’s wooded slopes are an easily remembered landscape in Middletown and the state of Connecticut. But even more impressive are the panoramic views from along the ridge at approximately 900 feet above sea level. The mountain has been identified in numerous studies as being of statewide significance and there are numerous informal hiking trails which have been created by hikers over the years. Ensuring that as much of Mount Higby as possible remain in open space will provide for the long-term protection of this significant natural resource.
From the Nature Conservancy website: A mile-long hike to the top of a ridge on the Higby Mountain Preserve offers wide views to the south, west and north over Connecticut’s central valley. At the summit, a hiker stands near the edge of a geologic fault on a ridge of basalt dating from the Triassic Period some 200 million years ago.) It protects watershed of the City's Higby Reservoirs; it protects the ridge of Higby Mtn and the Blue-Blazed trail system of the CT Forest & Park Association which is part of the New England Trail; The ridge is part of a unique traprock ecosystem which often supports the southern limit of northern species and the northern limit of southern species of flora and fauna.
The Common Council meeting on January 5 begins at 7 p.m. in the Council Chambers of City Hall, preceded by another meeting called “Questions for Directors” that begins at 6 p.m. Again, this is an occasion when public turnout can really make a difference.