Mystic -The Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center received its Christmas present a few days late.
Even so, it was greatly appreciated because without it, the nonprofit organization might have been unable to buy and preserve a 34-acre section of the Coogan Farm property before its purchase option runs out in March.
On Friday, when Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced that the state was awarding more than $9 million in Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition grants to 35 organizations, the nature center learned it would receive $500,000, among the largest grants the state was awarding.
"This is a keystone donation for us. Had we not received a substantial amount we would have had to re-evaluate our strategy," nature center Executive Director Maggie Jones said Sunday. "This is a big deal for us. We're happy the money came through."
She said the nature center has now raised $2.3 million of the $2.8 million it needs to buy the property from the Clara C. Coogan Trust. The nature center had set a goal of raising $2 million by end of this year.
John Swenarton, who is member of the Coogan Campaign Committee, said the nature center is receiving the grant "because this land conservation project has statewide importance, due to its natural and historic resources, connectivity, watershed protection attributes and cultural and recreational benefits to the statewide community."
"This is wonderful endorsement of the conservation and environmental aspects of Coogan Farm. Now we know it can be saved as multifaceted open space to be used by all our community. In addition to immediate benefits to our public land conservation ethic, we will, in Coogan Farm, create a vital park where nature and history shape our future," he said is statement.
Jones has stressed that the purchase will not only preserve an important part of Mystic for residents and give them a great opportunity to connect with nature but help maintain the atmosphere that draws tourists to town.
The developer of a proposed 245-unit assisted living project on another section of the farm has donated another 11 acres of space to the nature center to add to 34 acres it wants to buy. The Coogan Farm property, which contains a house, barns, old farmland, meadows, orchards and forest, also borders hundreds of acres of other open space parcels.
Earlier this year, town officials rejected a request from the nature center and the Trust for Public Land to ask voters to approve $1.5 million in bonding toward the purchase and improvements, which would total $3.5 million. The nature center then proceeded with its campaign to raise all the money itself.