The Kent Land Trust is officially the owner of the 252-plus acre property formerly known as Camp Francis in Kent and Warren.

An assembly of representatives and officials gathered Feb. 4 at Kent Town Hall to sign the deeds and paperwork on the land trust's purchase.

Capping an intensive effort that began more than two years ago, the land trust purchased the property from the Girl Scouts of Connecticut for $1.5 million.

The land will now be protected as a nature preserve open to the public for passive recreation.

The Kent Land Trust learned of the Scouts' interest in long-term conservation of the land in the fall of 2011.

Land trust members -- as well as many local residents -- have long been well aware of the property due to its size, prominent location along a scenic road, collection of sensitive and important natural and cultural resources, and the Scouts' declining use of the camp.

"This is a critical project for the town of Kent and for the residents of both Warren and Kent," said Kent First Selectman Bruce Adams in August of 2012. "For many years, people have expressed concern about what will happen to Camp Francis. I am really pleased that the Kent Land Trust is taking the lead with this ambitious effort."

"Today is a banner day for all of Kent and Warren," Bill Arnold, land trust president, said Feb. 4 at town hall. "We still have quite a lot of work ahead, to clear dilapidated buildings, repair the dam, restore the trails and make the property safe. But this is a huge step and we have many to thank."

A community project, the trust's application for the State Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Program funding, for which it was awarded $500,000, was supported by 26 letters from local municipal commissions, state and federal legislators, local and regional conservation organizations, and regional planning groups.

In addition to the state grant, KLT received $520,000 in federal funds from the Highlands Conservation Act administered by the federal Fish & Wildlife Service.

In August 2013, Kent voters passed a referendum to approve a $110,000 town appropriation to KLT to assist in the acquisition.

The land trust also received contributions from many additional donors, including a grant from the John T. and Jane A. Wiederhold Foundation, and a large number of town residents.

The organization received support from local organizational partners the Housatonic Valley Association and the Warren Land Trust, and project partners the Conservation Fund and the Norcross Wildlife Foundation, which both provided bridge financing enabling it to acquire the property and begin restoration work while state and federal grants funds are being processed.

KLT will manage the property as a nature preserve, with trails for walking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and nature observation.

The land trust anticipates completing the work needed to make the property safe for public use as early as summer 2014.

The property is expected to be a particularly good place for bird watching.

Bird surveys on the site in May and June 2012 identified 35 species associated with interior forest, early-successional and wetland/open water habitats, including the Scarlet Tanager, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Indigo Bunting and Baltimore Oriole.

KLT hopes to restore part of the historical post-and-beam lodge, a remnant of the original Barnum farm, where commemorative exhibits and information may be stored.

The land trust also plans a collaborative project with the Kent Historical Society to chronicle the historic use of the property, both before and during the Girl Scouts' tenure.

-- Deborah Rose