Protect Undeveloped Terre Haute Before It's Too Late
Editorial by Ellen Rosenberg
as seen in THE NEWS-TIMES 10/7/01
Two weeks ago, Ridgefield voters decided to purchase the Bennett's
Pond property, preserving much of it as open space.
That action mirrored recent decisions in Redding, Danbury, Brookfield
and neighboring communities - all aimed at protecting large tracts
No town has done enough to preserve these vanishing spaces. We
must do more to rescue the rocks and rills and wooded hills before
it's too late.
Bethel has a wonderful opportunity to do just that - and without
the cost that faces other communities.
The Terre Haute property, which last year was targeted for a golf
course, should be preserved as open space.
Located in Bethel and Danbury, Terre Haute is already owned by
Bethel. The reasons for protecting this property are many:
• Making it protected open space would ensure protection of
Bethel's water supply - Eureka Lake, Mountain Pond that feeds into
it, and the Murphy's Brook aquifer now held in reserve against future
• Protecting Terre Haute would realize the aims of Bethel's
expensive, careful, municipally approved Plan of Conservation and
Development - to preserve the small-town look and existing landscape
and set aside land for open space.
• It also would benefit the focus which the Nature Conservancy
has recently placed on the Saugatuck Forest lands. Terre Haute,
Danbury's Tarrywile Park and Bennett's Pond in Ridgefield are component
There are many options available to Bethel to protect Terre Haute
from unwise and fiscally unsound development.
These options would allow the town to develop portions of the lowlands
to produce new tax revenue while protecting other portions of Terre
Haute for passive recreation, enjoyment and education.
One reason the Nature Conservancy has focused on the preservation
of large parcels is that it is futile to try to save rare and endangered
species on small parcels.
Terre Haute is home to exciting creatures. The state's recent "BioBlitz"
program at Tarrywile detailed some of the present diversity and
quality. The neighboring areas are essential for the survival of
Biodiversity not only preserves rare species, but may help in fighting
diseases like Lyme that can be dangerous to humans.
The Bethel Golf Authority, charged by town leaders in a different
administration to investigate the possibilities of a golf course
on town-owned land, proposed that the town back an $11.9 million
bond issue for construction and initial operation of a golf course
on a portion of Terre Haute.
The site is highly inappropriate for a golf course. It is extremely
steep, with an elevation change equivalent to a 80-story building.
It is composed of extensive ledge.
Considerable bulldozing, grading and blasting would have been required,
as well as the cutting of 150 acres of trees and the breaking of
the forest continuity so vital to wildlife, both plant and animal.
About one-sixth of the cost would have gone into the construction
of a road up to the summit for a future clubhouse (and automobile
access), with sewer and water extensions up the road. This would
have tempted further development, completely contraindicated by
the Bethel Plan of Conservation and Development.
Golf is a wonderful game. Terre Haute was just the wrong place
In a June 2000 referendum, a high turnout of Bethel voters rejected
the golf plan - 58 percent to 42 percent.
It was the right decision. The golf proposal was a financial and
environmental risk that Bethel just didn't need.
Bethel's small-town atmosphere and its environment have benefited
from keeping Terre Haute undeveloped all these years.
In our part of the state, we've been gobbling up land. Brookfield
and Sherman tripled in population between 1960 and 1990. New Milford
quadrupled its numbers in the last 30 years and is responding with
multi-million dollar school construction.
The development has oozed out over the landscape, reflected in
the increasing ration of land value to the value of buildings on
"Suburban sprawl," in the Sierra Club's words, "is
irresponsible, poorly planned development that destroys green space,
increases traffic and air pollution, crowds schools and drives up
taxes." The answer is "smart" growth - development
that channels growth into existing areas, provides public transportation
options and preserves farmland and open space.
Recent studies show that open space is not only vital to maintaining
the rural feel of a community, but may actually result in lower
taxes and increased property values.
The Trust for Public Land found that towns in which open land makes
up a larger proportion of the tax base have lower taxes on the average
than more developed towns.
It also concluded that the "permanent protection of a parcel
is more likely to redirect rather than preclude development . .
. Instead, the conservation of key parcels may influence the location
and pattern of development. This may make providing municipal services
more efficient and cheaper, it may help the town meet its other
goals and it may make other property in the town more valuable,
resulting in increased tax revenue."
In our increasingly crowded region, let us strive for balance.
Let us pay more attention to these careful, professional conservation
and development plans, urging our municipal commissions to implement
Especially, before it is too late, let us preserve Terre Haute.
This high earth, this important piece of the beautiful Connecticut
landscape, one of the features that made us happy to live here in
the first place.
Ellen M. Rosenberg is an ecological anthropologist. She lives
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