Lawsuit against Boy Scouts Says Bird Refuge at Deer Lake Must be Preserved


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MIDDLETOWN — An avid birder and supporter of the preservation of Deer Lake filed suit in Middlesex Superior Court yesterday against the Connecticut Yankee Council of the Boy Scouts of America stating that the bird sanctuary on the property must be protected and that the council has received substantial charitable donations for maintenance of the refuge since 2011. 

David Stephenson, of Madison, is seeking a declaratory judgment from the court that any sale of Deer Lake must include a conservation restriction prohibiting any changes to the property inconsistent with its use as a bird sanctuary.

According to the suit, the council received donations from New Haven ornithologist and philanthropist Richard English in 1985 to establish an eponymous bird sanctuary on the 255-acre property located at 101 Paper Mill Road in Killingworth. According to the suit, after the founder’s death in 2011, the Richard L. English Fund continued to make donations to the council amounting to approximately $100,000 annually. 

Attorney Keith Ainsworth, who is representing Stephenson, said that in addition to the issue of the bird refuge and related charitable donations, the suit points out that the Boy Scouts is a federal 501c3 nonprofit with a public, charitable component that must be taken into account. 

“Their mission includes broader civic responsibility, and also conservation values since the founding of the Boy Scouts. Conservation is a fundamental aspect of their charitable purpose,” Ainsworth told CT Examiner. 

The council is considering a $4.6 million offer for the property from Margaret Streicker, CEO of Fortitude Capital, LLC, a New York developer, who is also a board member of the council. The offer was based on a fair-market value appraisal of $3.7-4.2 million.

The council previously rejected an offer of $2.4 million from the Trust for Public Land, based on its assessment of the property at $2-2.4 million. The trust’s bylaws prevent it from bidding above the trust’s assessment of the property. 

In early April, the council also rejected an undisclosed offer from Pathfinders, a local nonprofit.

The deadline for receiving bids is May 1, pushed forward from March 31 after Attorney General William Tong began investigations of the transaction. The council put the property on the market in the fall of 2021. 

The property was purchased by the Boy Scouts in 1959. For the last 35 years, Patty and Mark Clifton have operated a youth day camp for eight weeks each summer. According to the council, the camp — operated by the Cliftons — will be allowed to continue for at least three more years. 

The council did not have a comment on the suit at the time of publication.