On the Trail — By Doug McGrady
WildfloraRI, Spring 2011
The Ben Utter Trail in Arcadia is a great place to see the beauty of Rhode Island’s natural landscape. This walk is interesting in any season, but in springtime it’s special. The trail starts at Plain Road and heads northwest along the Falls River, continuing all the way to Stepstone Falls on Falls River Road.
Your journey begins under a canopy of towering White Pines and Red Maples. Along this stretch of the river, the ground can be thick with spring ephemerals. When you reach the first footbridge, notice the muddy seep on the left. In April this area is filled with bright yellow Marsh Marigolds and the white blossoms of Bittercress.
As you continue on the trail watch for sprouting Pink Lady Slippers and patches of Downy Rattlesnake Plantain. The latter is an evergreen orchid with white-veined leaves in a basal rosette.
The trail leads you up a hill at an old mill site and merges onto a dirt road call Tanner Washout. Just before reaching the road look to the left at a flat area beside the trail. Like an old garden plot, this small patch has soft, rich soil. Here you may find Nodding Trillium, White Baneberry and Cut-leaf Grape Fern. This small fern is triangular, about 6 inches high, and somewhat evergreen. Its appearance can vary greatly from plant to plant. Some leaves have smooth edges and some have a lacy look.
The trail merges with the road for about 100 feet, then turns off to the right, toward the river. When you reach the second footbridge, stop and notice the surrounding trees. Sugar Maples and Beech are now part of the canopy. The presence of Sugar Maples often indicates richer soils than usual. This stand extends from the river’s edge on your right and follows the brook uphill to your left.
Continuing on the trail brings you past another mill work. Scattered around the site are pockets of richer soils. Look for Perfoliate Bellwort.
The trail leads you through an open and airy forest. Large specimens of Beech, Yellow Birch, oaks, and hickories lead the way ultimately to the picturesque Stepstone Falls.
See for yourself what a gem this trail is. You’ll want to come back again and again.
Directions: From Ten Rod Road (Route 165) in Exeter, turn north onto Eschoheag Hill Rd. Go 0 .9 miles and turn right (east) onto Plain Road at the park entrance. Bear left at the fork continuing on Plain Rd. Go 1.1 miles to the parking area at the Wood River Bridge.