The land is vacant, the sellers are willing and the park ranger is eager to blaze some new trails for hikers. Now all the town of Hamden has to do is figure out how to match a $432,250 state grant recently awarded to obtain adjacent property and expand Brooksvale Park.
The sellers “have always wanted to see it become part of the park,” said Vinnie Lavorgna, Brooksvale park ranger. “They deserve some credit. I appreciate their decision to value the land as open space.”
The land in question is a 42-acre, mostly forested plot next to the park that is currently owned by the Beers family. The sellers’ wishes are in contrast to the activity across the street — another sprawling family plot that was chopped into eight parcels and is currently being developed into new homes.
The town applied for a grant to buy the land next to the park with support from Hamden State Rep. Josh Elliott and other lawmakers. Now ex-Gov. Dannel P. Malloy recently announced the $432,250 award for the Brookvale deal as part of $4.8 million in state open space funding to pay for 1,139 acres across the state.
But whether Hamden can come up with the matching funds to complete its land buy is another question. Town lawmakers raised taxes last year even as they cut Hamden’s capital budget by more than $3.7 million for the 2017-18 to help offset cuts in state aid and rising pension costs. Funding the expansion of Brooksvale may require help from the Regional Water Authority or other parties.
“I really appreciate our state delegation’s strong advocacy for this key grant and look forward to working with partners to acquire and protect this beautiful land,” Hamden Mayor Curt Leng said in a statement.
Water quality could be a key issue: The land would be classified as a Level A Aquifer Protection Zone due to its location, uphill from Willow Brook, which feeds into the Mill River and then the Lake Whitney reservoir.
“That’s another value of this parcel, we are getting clean water ... for Greater New Haven’s use,” Lavorgna said.
Already the town’s largest plot of open space, Brooksvale Park currently consists of 500 acres of woods, playing fields and a model farm and organic garden. Kids from all over the area visit the park’s resident animals: three mini-horses, two sheep, two goats, eight rabbits and 25 chickens.
Every Hamden fourth-grader also visits Brooksvale in early spring to watch the annual maple-sugaring demonstrations, using sap from the park’s native trees.
Ranger Lavorgna estimated that about 80,000 people visited Brooksvale Park last year. He said he hopes the proposed expansion will draw more hikers and campers. The acquired land would be left undeveloped and managed as forestland.
Town open space is especially vital now as nearby Sleeping Giant State Park remains closed for rebuilding after last year’s devastating tornado. Brooksvale Park has seen more patrons as a result. More land at the site would allow for more recreation.
“The chance to protect that land in perpetuity is a great thing,” Lavorgna said. “I’m happy to say that this purchase will help this area retain its rustic character.”