Borough eyeing 45 acres of open space

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By Andreas Yilma, Staff Writer

Naugatuck Mayor N. Warren ‘Pete’ Hess talks about the importance of Gunntown Passive Park and Nature Preserve at the entrance to the park on Aug. 25. The borough wants to buy 45 acres of open space to connect the park off Gunntown Road with borough-owned land on Andrew Mountain Road. –ANDREAS YILMA

NAUGATUCK — Officials are looking to acquire a large parcel of open space to connect the Gunntown Passive Park and Nature Preserve with borough-owned land on Andrew Mountain Road.

Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess said he’s applied for an open space grant through the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to purchase 45 acres of land on Andrew Mountain Road from the Wilmot family.

The topography of land, Hess said, makes it unbuildable. He hopes to buy the land to preserve it as open space and expand the land the borough owns in the area for passive recreation.

The state grant would pay for 75% to 80% of the cost of the land, and the borough would pay the remainder with anticipated surplus funds, according to Hess. The land has to be appraised by the state, he said. It was unclear last week how much it would cost to buy.

Assessor Carol Ann Tyler said the 45 acres is part of larger parcel that’s about 229 acres. She said the land the borough is eyeing has not been appraised yet.

Hess said the borough won’t know whether it will receive the grant for a few months.

“I’m not hopeful we’re going to get it this year, but I am hopeful in the next season we’re going to get it,” Hess said. “Whether it’s this year, next year or the year after, we’re going to get it.”

Gunntown Passive Park and Nature Preserve is about 40 acres of land off Gunntown Road that became a nature preserve about 10 years ago. The borough took ownership of 146 acres off Andrew Mountain Road in 2012. This land includes the Naugatuck Dog Park.

In the last several years, the borough added three pieces of open space to Gunntown Passive Park and Nature Preserve in the area of Brighton Road and Coventry Lane on Rubber Avenue Extension. The borough recently obtained a meadow on Andrew Mountain Road by foreclosure, as well, Hess said.

“We’re buying the land that’s not suitable for development, which should be preserved and kept in its natural state and will help us connect everything,” Hess said.

Buying the 45 acres of land would connect the borough properties to Gunntown Passive Park and Nature Preserve. Hess said the borough would also relocate a section of the Mission 22 Trail that runs along private property owned by the Wilmots to borough land. Hess said about half a mile of new trail would be added to connect the existing trail with the 45-acre parcel.

Mission 22 is a nonprofit organization that seeks to end veteran suicide and also offers treatment for issues, like post-traumatic stress, veterans face. The borough has hosted an annual hike on its Mission 22 trial for the past few years to raise money and awareness for the organization.

Hess said most of the open land will remain untouched forever.

“Gunntown Park is a secret hidden gem in Naugatuck. Not many people realize it’s here and it happens to be, in my opinion, the most serene, tranquil and calm location in the entire town,” Hess said. “It’s a beautiful asset to the town that is completely underutilized and not really known by the general public.”