US senator lends voice to efforts to preserve Killingworth camp property

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KILLINGWORTH — Calling Boy Scout-owned Deer Lake Camp a “magical” place, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., has pledged to help secure federal funds to prevent private development of the 255-acre property. acres, which is up for sale.

“The precious and pristine treasure that is Deer Lake…must be preserved,” Blumenthal told a group of three dozen people who gathered beside the frozen lake at camp amid freezing temperatures on Thursday.

“It’s truly a statewide treasure, and that’s why I’ll be going to the Water and Conservation Fund of the Great Outdoors Act, looking for whatever resources we can do.” He said he would push for funding in the range of $2-3 million, and “maybe more.”


The press conference comes ahead of a February meeting of the Connecticut Yankees Board of Scouts, where the group is due to consider offers for the scenic property. One offer is from a developer, Boy Scout officials confirmed.

No meeting date has been announced at this time.

However, representatives from the Connecticut Yankee Council were present at the outdoor conference and said they looked forward to meeting the senator.

“We had a brief but productive conversation after the conference,” said Bob Brown, a council spokesman.

When the Boy Scouts announced plans in September to sell the camp, many expressed deep concern that the property could be sold to a private developer and no longer accessible to the public. Area residents, local and state officials, and environmental conservation and protection groups were among those who expressed concern about the future of the property.

“Letting it go down the path of development would be unconscionable,” Blumenthal said. “Not just because it’s a wonderful resource for campers, but for all of us.

“It connects to the nearby state forest [Cockaponset State Forest] in Chatfield Hollow – it is part of the ecological cornerstone of the area,” he added.

“Open space is not something you can lose and get back. Once it’s lost, it’s gone, it’s gone forever,” Blumenthal said.

When it comes to fundraising, “the people who are going to make this happen are you,” he told the group. “I’m going to go to the federal government and knock on doors and I’m going to argue that these 255 acres aren’t just about Connecticut, but about the ecological systems it supports and the wildlife,” he said.

Deer Lake Camp has been a beloved summer camp for decades, with generations of families attending the area camp, press conference attendees said.

“This is the first time for so many campers,” said State Senator Christine Cohen, who represents the 12th District. “It’s the first night, the first time a Scout walks in the woods and identifies the types of trees, the first time they learn how to make a friction fire.”

The land is also vital to the area’s trail network, state and local officials said.

The plot is key, Killingworth First Selectman Nancy Gorski said, because it’s part of the Greenway Trail that stretches from Middletown to the shoreline and is part of the Blue Trail.

“The key here is that Deer Lake Scout Reservation is part of the state’s greenway that runs through our city,” Gorski said.

“That’s why we see this as a priority for preservation,” she said. Preserving the site as ‘open space’ is also in line with our conservation and development plan for Killingworth.

Gorski noted that developing the property would be difficult, as the property does not have enough frontage to connect to roads. Any required infrastructure would come at a significant cost to any developer, she said.

“It can’t be developed right now without additional property – there’s not enough frontage for a road to pass through it,” Gorski said.

In a written statement, Connecticut Yankee Council Chairman Rudy Escalante said, “The Connecticut Yankee Council is focused on creating the best experience for our Scouts.

“In 2021, our membership grew by 3%, a sign that our communities want Scouting more than ever. This growth is happening despite the challenges we have all faced over the past year,” he said.

“Our volunteer Board of Directors and staff review all of our properties, facilities and programs to ensure they support our mission to provide the best possible youth development program for our children. To maintain this positive momentum, we are making decisions based on what is best for our Scouting program,” Escalante said.

“For more than 50 years, we have been stewards of the Deer Lake Scout Reservation and we are committed to finding the best solution possible,” he said.

The camp has a mile-long spring-fed lake, a bathing area in a “kettle” [a lake created by retreating flood waters or glaciers] named “the lagoon”, as well as well-maintained trails in a virgin forest. Scouts and day campers, as well as hikers and residents, enjoy the property.

One of the most famous features is the unique glacial rock formation called “Fat Man’s Squeeze” which kids love to explore.

The private Save Deer Lake Facebook group was created when the Boy Scouts of America of the Connecticut Yankee Council announced plans to sell the camp last fall.

According to Mark Kraus, CEO of the Connecticut Yankee Council, the two sale options are a sale to a private developer or a sale involving the Hamden-based Trust for Public Land.

The public land trust isn’t buying the property outright, according to Ted Langevin, scout leader, president of Pack 491 in Madison and member of the Quinnipiac committee.

Instead, the trust buys an option to buy the land and raises the funds to purchase it. At closing, the group sells its option to the acquiring entity, such as a nonprofit or municipal government, and uses the money raised to fund the purchase, Langevin had told Hearst Connecticut Media.

Kraus said Deer Lake was not being sold as part of the Boy Scouts of America’s $850 million sexual abuse settlement. The group plans the sale as part of a tax responsibility plan.

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