Photo by: Robert Grigg

Saving the Upper Shepaug River Headwaters under the Highlands Conservation Act

Monday, October 20, 2014

For the past 100 years, Marshepaug Forest, Inc. has been under the care and management of a dedicated group of individuals whose predecessors once owned nearly 7,000 acres in the Shepaug River Valley in Litchfield and Warren, Connecticut.  Those lands were taken in the 1930s and 1960s and unundated to create the Shepaug and Cairns Reservoirs to provide clean drinking water to more than 150,000 customers in Greater Waterbury.  The 748 acres that remain to the Marshepaug Forest contain some of the most ecologically significant land in the Conecticut Highlands, with the highest overall conservation ranking by the US Forest Service within Connecticut's Upper Shepaug Highlands Focal Area.

In an effort facilitated by the Litchfield Hills Greenprint, 742 acres of Marshepaug Forest - everything but the lands around a few structures on the property - have been offered to the State of Connecticut as part of a collaborative land protection partnership called the Upper Shepaug Highlands project.  Along with additional land owned by Litchfield Land Trust and another nearby property, the project is designed to protect nearly 900 acres of extraordinary land through three conservation easements, two of which would be outright donations.  The easement over Marshepaug Forest has been offered to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) at a steeply discounted price to match federal funds available to the State under the Highlands Conservation Act.  This highly leveraged transaction does not require payment of any state funding and would be the largest land protection project ever undertaken in Connectuct under the Highlands Conservation Act.

The superlative conservation values that would be protected through project make a very long list, but include:

* The project would create more than 2.6 miles of new and expanding public recreation trails, including a new trout management area on the Shepaug River.

* It would add approximately 12,000 ft. of river corridor protection and conserve fully 25% of a 2,000 acre block of unfragmented interior forest.

* It is directly adjacent to 3,242 acres of Waterbury Water Company reservoir lands.

* It includes rare species habitats prioritized for conservation in the State of Connecticut's comprehensive wildlife conservation strategy and identified in its Natural Diversity database (NDDB).

The AState of Connecticut DEEP has indicated its interest in pursuing this transaction with Marshepaug Forest, Litchfield Land Trust and Housatonic Valley Association as a Highlands Conservation Act project using existing funds.  The Highlands Conservation Act is a federal designation for an area that encompasses portions of Pennsylvania, New Jesery, New York and Connecticut, and during the last decade has provided several million dollars to Connecticut to acquire conservation interest in significant lands within the Highlands. 

This project would not have been possible without the strong advocacy and outreach of many of our neighbors and conservation supporters who made certain that CT DEEP understood how importnant these lands are to concerve.  There is more work to do but the project is now on track to a successful conclusion next year and we look forward to celebrating this success with all of our partners when it is concluded.

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Photo by: Wendy Carlson