BEACON FALLS – A new study of 97 acres of town-owned open space will help guide the Conservation Commission as it decides the best use of the property.
Last June, King’s Mark Connecticut Environmental Review Team (CT ERT) brought a group of environmental scientists to Lantern Ridge to access the state of the vegetation, geology, streams, pools and wildlife.
The first step in determining what types of activities should occur on the property, according to Diane Betkoski, chair of the Conservation Commission, is knowing the area’s resources.
The commission, armed with the recently released report, can now discuss whether to use the forest for education, recreation, research or some combination of activities.
Beacon Falls acquired the land in 1990 when the Planning and Zoning Commission requested that a developer, looking to build houses on a larger parcel including Lantern Ridge, turn over the space.
“Basically, it was an unusable piece of property that the developer was not able to build on,” Betkoski said.
The property has been sitting idle since then, with no formal plan for its use in place.
Betkoski said the commission will most likely keep the property for more passive recreation.
The property currently has one unofficial trail running through it, which Betkoski predicts the commission will keep as a main artery. They may also talk about cutting new trails without disrupting natural resources.
“Trails are key, certainly, to bringing people and wildlife together,” Betkoski said.
New trails would take advantage of the terrain and existing habitats.
“We hope to see eventually nature trails that include information signs to provide insight into the geology and ecology of the area,” Betkoski said.
Effective trail planning and layout can enhance the learning and aesthetic aspects of passive outdoor recreation by providing easy access to varied habitats, according to the study.
The focus of the Conservation Commission is first and foremost to identify what those natural resources are so that boards can make conscientious decisions, Betkoski said.
“We’re the conscience, if you will, for caring for the natural resources here in town,” she said.
For example, because there are some wetlands and water sources on the property, it’s important not to have heavy vehicles cut through it, causing erosion and destroying natural habitats, Betkoski said.
In addition, tires from all-terrain vehicles spread invasive plant species to a broader area.
The property already has an infestation of Japanese Stilt Grass along old logging roads, according to the report.
Betkoski said the research team saw tire marks during their field review last summer.
People on ATVs access the property from the Seymour boarder, Betkoski said.
She said she’s working with town officials from Seymour to restrict access to the area and preserve the natural resources.
The report proposes putting gates at all access points at property boundaries to discourage unauthorized motor vehicle use.
The study found that the area, which includes nine acres of wetlands, is an important habitat for a wide variety of wildlife.
According to the report, the site offers a wide array of science based educational opportunities for the study of aquatic and terrestrial flora and fauna and forestry management.
“Specific habitats on site could serve as staging areas for outdoor living classrooms/laboratories in and around the property. This would expand and enhance all grade level science based curriculums in the school system and other environmental groups,” the study says.
The study made stewardship recommendations including marking property boundaries and mapping trails with GPS. The Conservation Commission should evaluate the condition and use of trails to determine which trails should be maintained and kept open and which should be closed and allowed to recover from abuse.
The study also suggests determining if new trails should be developed for educational use. It also recommends improving and enlarging the parking area along Skokorat Road and adding informational signs, along with repairing the access road that runs along Rimmon Brook and North Rimmon Brook for emergency use.
Finally, the study encourages the commission to locate and control or eradicate non-native invasive plant species.
Of course, any changes are entirely up to the Conservation Commission.
Once the commission determines possible uses, it will do a cost analysis and look into the community impact those uses would have. The commission will create a report and host a community forum to share this information before making a final plan.
In addition the commission will continue to monitor, track, and access the state of the property and make a report each year, according to Betkoski.
Conservation and development are both important to residents of Beacon Falls, according to Betkoski.
“I think many people have moved to Beacon Falls because of the rural character of the town,” she said.