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Contract signed to sell Deer Lake to conservationists

Adirondack lean-to shelters at one of the camp sites at Deer Lake Scout Reservation in Killingworth, Connecticut.
Wikimedia Commons
Adirondack lean-to shelters at one of the camp sites at Deer Lake Scout Reservation in Killingworth, Connecticut.

Deer Lake in Killingworth, a 300-acre forest that was under threat from being sold and developed, is off the shopping block.

Pathfinders, a local nonprofit organization, have signed a contract with the owners, the Connecticut Yankee Council, part of Boy Scouts of America, for $4.75 million.

Pathfinders intends to maintain the property as a camp. The closing is scheduled for Sept. 15.

“We’ve acquired the property, but it's not quite saved yet,” said Ted Langevin, the president of Pathfinders. “Because we have a large amount of debt that we have to pay off, before we can really truly get to our goal, which is to put a conservation easement on the property and protect it for all time from any kind of development. So, that’s going to be our next major push is to try and get that achieved.”

Negotiations to save Deer Lake started in May, when the Connecticut Yankee Council considered an offer from a local developer, who was also a member of their board. The council has not responded to requests for comment on the sale.

The original sale to developers had prompted an investigation by the state attorney general's office, who requested a delay in the sale of Deer Lake to see whether the sale was even legal.

“Deer Lake is a beautiful, undeveloped property, where generations of Connecticut children have spent memorable and impactful summers. I am pleased that all parties were able to work together to find a way to preserve this Connecticut gem,” State Attorney General William Tong said in a statement about the sale to a conservationist group.

“They could have made statements that would have been helpful, and I don’t know why they just stayed quiet,” said Keith Ainsworth, an environmental lawyer.

Ainsworth represented David Stephenson, of Madison, who sought a court declaration that any sale of Deer Lake must include a conservation restriction to prevent changes that would impact the property’s use as a bird sanctuary. They also argued the conservation is foundational to the Boy Scout’s public, charitable mission.

Tong’s review identified ‘a charitable restriction on one of the six parcels offered for sale that required the land be preserved as ‘open space parks and/or natural areas.’” Neither Langevin with Pathfinders or Ainsworth said they had heard this determination from Tong’s office before Thursday — even after submitting complaints in May.

Ainsworth blamed the state for neglecting to announce their support in protecting the bird refuge at Deer Lake sooner.

“If [the state] really truly believed there were no issues, they should have said we don’t find any issues here, there’s nothing untoward about this,” he said. “But if they thought that there were, they should have said it. And I can’t imagine it has taken this long and they still haven’t come to a determination."

"They have many lawyers on their staff and it's very easy to determine what the law says. You know, it only took me a few hours to research it.”

An award-winning freelance reporter/host for WSHU, Brian lives in southeastern Connecticut and covers stories for WSHU across the Eastern side of the state.