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Kathleen DeMeo

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Elizabeth B. Karter Watch Rock Preserve

25 Acres • Old Lyme, CT

Partners: Old Lyme Conservation Trust, Connecticut Dept. of Environmental Protection

A Waterfront Park in Old Lyme Rather Than Corporate Offices

Watch Rock is a 25-acre waterfront preserve located in Old Lyme along the Duck River. For centuries, indigenous people could “watch” river travel from its shoreline as they fished and gathered shellfish.

This exceptionally scenic location was nearly lost to development. In 1970, when Connecticut was courting industrial investment, the property was purchased by the Loctite Corporation, a manufacturer of industrial adhesives, as a site for its corporate headquarters.

While the HQ was never built, Watch Rock remained an attractive potential building site, with proximity to a state highway and Interstate 95. In 1986, the Old Lyme Conservation Trust (now the Old Lyme Land Trust) learned the property, long on conservationists’ wish lists, was for sale.

Grassroots and the Gateway Commission

The Trust moved swiftly, borrowing $500,000 to purchase Watch Rock. A capital campaign was immediately held to pay off the loan. Fundraising benefits, newspaper appeals, and the generosity of about 1,000 donors, from as far away as Alaska, brought in a quarter of a million dollars for the “Campaign for Watch Rock.”

The Trust needed more money though, and the Connecticut River Gateway Commission helped.

The Gateway Commission granted $395,000 to purchase Watch Rock’s scenic and development rights, in the form of a land protection agreement to be held by the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

Commission Chairman Irwin Wilcox lauded the deal’s innovation, as it was the first time that Gateway funds were used to preserve property for public access, in addition to protecting land from commercial development.

A Success Story

At a ribbon cutting, DEP Commissioner Leslie Carothers said, “This is an impressive success story and a remarkable example of individuals working to preserve an irreplaceable piece of their local landscape. It’s an encouraging demonstration of how combined local and state efforts can accomplish things neither could pull off alone. On behalf of the Department of Environmental Protection and the Connecticut River Gateway Commission, I’m happy that we’ve been able to play a part in this significant purchase.”

Today Watch Rock is a wonderful location to view waterways, various river islands, even the Old Saybrook lighthouses and Long Island Sound in the distance. A short, flat trail through the preserve offers a chance to seasonally see osprey, eagles, herons, egrets and other wildlife.

Outlined perimeter