Blumenthal: “An Environmental Miracle”

Now that Deer Lake has been purchased, all debts satisfied and its preservation assured, it was time Tuesday to thank those responsible for completing what U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal accurately described as “an environmental miracle.” And, so, he and others attending a news conference on the 253-acre property did.

They congratulated Pathfinders, Inc., a local non-profit that raised $4.75 million to buy Deer Lake from the Connecticut Yankee Council (CYC) of the Boy Scouts and keep it from private development. They thanked volunteers who participated in an ambitious fundraising effort, as well as advocates and activists who supported the drive. And they especially thanked former Boy Scout David Knapp, whose $780,000 donation last month retired all outstanding loans and guaranteed Deer Lake’s preservation.

But, as it became clear with each speech, the appreciation extended far beyond those persons.

“David Knapp helped inexorably,” Blumenthal said, referring to the former Guilford resident who passed away last year at 97, “but saving Deer Lake became a mission for the Killingworth community, the larger environmental community and for preservationists and environmentalists everywhere. Because one this open space is lost, it would be gone forever.”

Without their support, Pathfinders could not … and would not … have been able to purchase the property from the Boy Scouts. In fact, when it launched its “Save Deer Lake” campaign in 2022 to keep Fortitude Capital LLC from purchasing the land for $4.625 million, its goal seemed more like “Mission Improbable.”

Yet there its board members stood Tuesday in Clifton Hall, joining Blumenthal … and state Atty. Gen. William Tong … and Killingworth First Selectman Eric Couture … to celebrate the unimaginable: Only 18 months after buying the property for a price that included $1.8 million in loans, Pathfinders not only retired the mortgage; it made a conservation easement to preserve Deer Lake in perpetuity a virtual certainty.

“We had quite a heavy debt burden,” said Pathfinders’ president Ted Langevin, “but people kept on giving, and Mr. Knapp polished it off … and we’re very thankful that he did. It just seemed unimaginable that we could ever pull this off.”

Yet it did, and all present Tuesday acknowledged the obvious: What occurred was a team effort that extended beyond Pathfinders and Killingworth. It included over 1,400 donors from 87 Connecticut towns, 34 states and five countries. It also included nationwide exposure, with USA Today, NPR, the Washington Post and Associated Press covering the story as it unfolded. Plus, it included the support of politicians, with Blumenthal, Tong and state Sen. Christine Cohen, as well as former Killingworth First Selectwoman Nancy Gorski, behind the movement.

“When I stood here in 2022,” Blumenthal said, referring to a news conference in late January that year, “there was no path to save Deer Lake. There was no step by step way ahead. It was little bit like finding the end of the trail in the wood. And, somehow, we came together, and it was more than just one person. You know the old saying? Defeat is an orphan, but victory has a thousand parents? This was really that victory.”

Nevertheless, aside from Knapp, there was one individual who played a pivotal role in the preservation of the property, and that was Atty. Gen. Tong. It was he who, after conferring with the CYC, extended a March 31 deadline set for the property’s sale to May 1 … and there’s no overstating the significance of that announcement. That’s because the move occurred immediately after the CYC rejected a Pathfinders’ offer of $4.3 million on March 30, thus allowing the group another month to raise $475,000.

In short, without Tong’s intervention, Pathfinders may not have been successful.

“Everybody played a role,” said Tong. “It wouldn’t be possible without Pathfinders … and the town … and Mr. Knapp … extinguishing the debt. I didn’t have a sense of that 18 months ago that this was possible, and, frankly, it was a leap of faith then. But I just threw a block at the right moment.”

Then he stopped and laughed.

“But that’s usually when blocks are important,” he said.

What’s important now is that the future is certain. There are no more blocks to preserving and protecting Deer Lake. Not anymore. Thanks to an effort Blumenthal characterized as “an environmental cause that focused the nation’s attention on the importance of open space,” the “Save Deer Lake” campaign is complete.

Deer Lake is saved. Now and forever.

“This community” said Blumenthal, acknowledging donors and supporters everywhere, “has given us a lesson on how activism and advocates make a difference. And we owe you.”

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