A scene from the 255-acre Deer Lake in Killingworth, which is up for sale. Christopher Guerette / Courtesy Hearst Connecticut Media

The preservation of the pristine Deer Lake Scout Reservation in Killingworth took a giant step forward Thursday when Pathfinders, Inc., signed a purchase and sale agreement to buy the property from the Boy Scouts’ Connecticut Yankee Council for $4.75 million.

The closing is scheduled for Sept. 15. 

Pathfinders is a local nonprofit that has run camping programs at Deer Lake for three decades under a lease arrangement with the Scouts. The nonprofit plans to continue its camping programs and to preserve the open space, said Ted Langevin, Pathfinders’ president.

The purchase will end a year-long battle over the rustic property that drew national attention.

The Boy Scouts put the property on the market about a year ago. Council officials said it was not driven by the national Scout organization’s bankruptcy case, in which local councils must pay a share of the proposed $2.7 billion settlement for more than 82,000 claims of child sexual abuse. Rather, it was an opportunity to right-size the council’s camp holdings in the face of declining membership and strengthen its financial future.

Fearing the property would be lost to development, as other camps have been, Langevin and others started a Save Deer Lake campaign. For a time it didn’t look promising. The Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit that has preserved thousands of acres in the state, appraised the property and bid $2.4 million.

That bid was steamrolled by a bid of $4.62 from a real estate developer, Margaret Streicker, who is also a Connecticut Yankee Council board member. But the Pathfinders managed to cobble together $4.75 million in contributions (from more than 1,300 donors) and low interest loans to top Streicker’s bid, which she said she would not raise. 

Langevin said his group would continue to raise funds, through a variety of means, to pay off the $1.8 million in loans. When the loans are settled, he said the group would seek a permanent conservation easement to maintain the 255-acre site in its natural state.

The land is considered important for conservation because it is part of a broader greenway that includes a major state forest. 

A spokesman for the Connecticut Yankee Council said the Scout organization is encouraged by the pending sale which “will help us bring Scouting to more young men and women in our communities.” 

The situation drew the attention of Attorney General William Tong, who reviewed various legal aspects of the sale to a developer. Sale to a nonprofit that will keep the land in open space apparently satisfies his review. In a statement Friday he thanked both sides for reaching a “positive resolution.”

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal also weighed in on Deer Lake, saying he was “absolutely thrilled that Pathfinders was able to buy and preserve the land to future generations can enjoy its natural beauty. Protecting open space is critically important for our environment – once it is lost there’s no way to get it back.”

When alerted to the Deer Lake situation, Blumenthal said he would explore the availability of federal funds to help states buy ecologically significant Scout camps that might be lost to development. His office said he is still on the case.

Tom writes about urban and regional issues for CT Mirror, including planning, transportation, land use, development and historic preservation. These were among his areas of interest in a 45-year career as a reporter, columnist and editorial writer for The Hartford Courant. Tom has won dozens of journalism and civic awards, and was elected to the New England Newspaper Hall of Fame in 2016. He is a native of New London, a graduate of The University of Notre Dame and the University of Connecticut School of Law, and is a Vietnam veteran.