Malcolm Grant Trail, Narragansett, RI

On the Trail – Laura Orabone
WildforaRI, Spring 2018

Rhode Island boasts some 400 miles of splendid coastal habitat, and the Malcolm Grant Trail in Narragansett is a perfect way to spend a day getting acquainted with it. Dedicated in 2008 and named for a long-time official with the RI Department of Environmental Management, in “recognition for his participation in acquisition of Black Point for the citizens of Rhode Island and his advocacy of ADA access and this trail to the shore,” this grassy trail winds through dramatic, windswept headlands overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and up into Narragansett Bay.

View of the main trail from the parking lot

Begin your exploration of this approximately four-mile trail system in the Black Point Fishing Area parking lot, directly across from 655 Ocean Road. From here you can follow the main trail south through a variety of maritime biomes, including woodlands, shrublands, and rocky cliffs, before reaching its terminus at the northern edge of Scarborough State Beach. A shorter loop trail, dedicated in 2012, winds to the north and offers some fine views of the bay.

The main trail begins by guiding you toward the coastline through grassy maritime shrubland. The habitat here is anchored by clumps of small trees and shrubs, including winged sumac (Rhus copallinum), arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum), black elderberry (Sambucus nigra), black cherry (Prunus serotina), and fragrant small bayberry (Morella caroliniensis). American pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) with its bright purple berries, the torch-like stalks of mullein (Verbascum thapsus), and the fuzzy leaves of burdock (Arctium minus) are a common sight. Often these anchor trees and shrubs are draped—some might even say choked— with a variety of climbers, both native and invasive. Wild rose (both Rosa rugosa and R. virginiana), greenbriar (Smilax glauca), wild grape (Vitis labrusca), and the common groundnut (Apios americana) weave themselves through strands of climbing nightshade (Solanum dulcamara), bramble canes (Rubus sp.), Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia), and poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans). Needless to say, a degree of care must be taken during blackberry season.

As the trail continues, you will notice an abundance of coastal wildflowers, offering beauty to the eye as well as habitat to local wildlife. White avens (Geum canadense) and broad-leaved enchanter’s-nightshade (Circaea canadensis) jostle with showy Turk’s cap lilies (Lilium superbum) and coastal plain Joe-Pye weed (Eutrochium dubium). Delicate jewelweed blossoms (Impatiens capensis), fluffy white meadowsweet (Spireae alba), and cheerful ox-eye daisies (Leucanthemum vulgare) sway over scattered constellations of Deptford pinks (Dianthus armeria). The rich greens of sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis) and cinnamon fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) offer a pleasing contrast to a variety of pale grasses, including velvet grass (Holcus lanatus), redtop (Agrostis gigantea), prairie cord grass (Spartina pectinata), and Timothy grass (Phleum pratense).

A number of side trails peel off from the main path, offering plenty of opportunities to wander and explore. Some lead back inland, toward the woodlands along the road, taking you through scrubby, disturbed areas of fireweed (Chamerion spp.), grape (Vitis spp.), Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica), hay-scented fern (Dennstaedtia spp.), and dewberry (Rubus flagellaris) before you reach the woodlands. Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana), Norway spruce (Picea abies), shadbush (Amelanchier spp.), sassafras (Sassafras albidum), and black and scarlet oaks (Quercus spp.) dominate here, providing shade, wildlife habitat and a welcome screen from summer traffic noise.

Many plants along the shore

Other side trails allow you to scramble down rocky cliffs, climb huge glacial erratics, and explore tide pools along the water’s edge at low tide. On a clear day, both the Point Judith and Beavertail lighthouses are visible in the far distance. You are now venturing into the maritime rocky cliff community. Here you encounter salt-tolerant coastal plants such as beach pea (Lathyrus japonicus), seaside plantain (Plantago maritima), orache (Atriplex spp.), black mustard (Brassica nigra), scarlet pimpernel (Lysimachia arvensis), and seaside goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens), which can be found nearly to the tide line, tucked between cracks in the rocks. Take care to watch your footing along here—the rocks below the tide line can be quite slippery, and the path becomes muddy after rain. The black rocks just offshore mark a popular fishing spot, but please resist the urge to explore them, as several people have slipped and drowned in this area.

Looking south toward Scarborough Beach

The southern end of the trail brings you to Scarborough State Beach and the ruins of an old stone carriage house that belonged to one of the many large estates that once dominated the coastline. Some say it was destroyed by fire; others blame the infamous hurricane of ‘38. Its remains are now slowly succumbing to the ravages of time, the weather, and bored young people. Nonetheless, it provides a pleasant spot to rest and enjoy a sunset.

Directions: Park in the gravel lot directly across from 655 Ocean Road, just north of Scarborough State Beach. A sign marks the parking lot as Black Point Fishing Area. A walking stick is a handy thing, especially on uneven or slippery terrain. Special thanks to Hope Leeson, botanist for the Rhode Island Natural History Survey, for her assistance in coastal plant identification.

Photos by Laura Orabone

Francis C. Carter Memorial Preserve, Charlestown, RI

On the Trail – Laura Orabone
WildforaRI, Winter 2017 

The Francis C. Carter Memorial Preserve, located in Charlestown, is Rhode Island’s second-largest nature preserve and is maintained by the state’s chapter of The Nature Conservancy. This 1,112- acre property was acquired in 2001 with help from The Champlin Foundations, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, and the Cove Point Foundation. The preserve is dedicated to Francis (“Frank”) C. Carter, who led the Champlin Foundations for many years.

The preserve encompasses an 11-mile corridor of open space between the glacial moraines of the Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge to the mixed eastern woodlands and grasslands of the state-owned Carolina Management Area. It is easily accessible from two locations: one at its eastern edge off Rte. 112 (also called Carolina Back Road) and another to the west off Old Mill Road. Originally offering more than five miles of well-marked trails, it has recently been expanded; however, since the new trails have yet to be included on official maps of the property, this guide will cover only the original trails.

The Old Mill Road entrance provides two parking areas – one near the trailhead for cars and another large enough to accommodate horse trailers and a manual pump for watering horses. Note that the gravel road leading to the parking area is not always well-graded. Equestrian trails are marked. Near this parking area, and throughout the preserve, you can find pink lady slipper orchids (Cypripedium acaule) in early spring. The ruins of a cellar hole are barely visible to the left, just past the trailhead.

From this entrance, the Narragansett Trail takes visitors through stands of mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia), sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia), black birch (Betula lenta), bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum), mockernut hickory (Carya tomentosa), white oak (Quercus alba), white wood aster (Aster divaricatus), and eastern white pine (Pinus strobus). Other notable native plants include pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata), spotted wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata), and partridge berry (Mitchella repens).

The Narragansett Trail provides an easy walk to a 35-acre grassland surrounded by pitch pine and quaking aspen. This area, cleared in 2008 with the cooperation of The Nature Conservancy, The National Audubon Society, and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, was recently expanded. It provides an important example of early successional habitat. Here you can see goldenrods, common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica), and a variety of native grasses and sedges. The adjacent uplands feature scarlet oak (Quercus coccinea), white oak (Quercus alba), pitch pine (Pinus rigida), and high-bush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum).

On warm spring evenings, when the peepers are in full swing, you can watch woodcocks performing their aerial courtship displays. The area also provides a nesting area for the state-threatened grasshopper sparrow, as well as the eastern towhee, scarlet tanager, and prairie warbler. American kestrels, brown thrashers, blue-winged warblers, and dozens of other birds may be observed here. A complete list is provided at the trailhead.

Off the Narragansett Trail is the short White Trail loop on the right. Before you reach the field, you can take a trail to the left leading through mostly pitch and white pine woods, with the occasional tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), eastern hemlock (Tsugacanadensis), and American holly (Ilex opaca). You may note an old chimney foundation here. This trail leads out to an open, sunny corridor created by a utility easement. The easement is home to lowbush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium), huckleberry (Gaylussacia spp.), sweet fern (Comptonia peregrina), and bird’s-foot violet (Viola pedata). Vernal ponds provide habitat for a variety of frogs and salamanders.

From the eastern trailhead off Carolina Back Road, you can explore the Yellow Trail and, if time permits, several other trails branching off from it. The Yellow Trail leads past a vernal pond to the right, then west through woodlands to the western trailhead off Old Mill Road. In the fall, small stands of witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) come into delicate bloom. The first left is the Split-Rock Trail, which follows a small loop before rejoining the Yellow Trail. The first right is the Red Trail, which meanders to the northeast and then curves back to the west through mixed hardwoods and pine, eventually joining the Blue Trail, which loops twice off the Yellow Trail.

Along both the Red and Blue Trails, there are several water features: trick- ling brooks, swamp areas dotted with skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus), and a pond off to the northeast of a portion of the Blue Trail. The pond is barely visible through the trees, and there is a rough wooden bench at this point to rest and listen. Along the middle section of the Yellow Trail, note the mysterious cairns or “turtle rocks” that dot the gently rolling landscape. Their significance is unknown; some claim they were built by early colonial farmers clearing stones from fields, while others attribute them to the Narragansett people. Also of note are several impressive granite boulders left behind by retreating glaciers at the end of the last Ice Age. Many of these are thickly plastered with rock tripe and topped with lush layers of mosses and ferns.

The Francis C. Carter Memorial Preserve is ideal for both short hikes and longer excursions. Allow 45 minutes for each trail; however, the shorter loop trails are suitable for briefer jaunts, ideal for families with young children. Although the terrain is not generally rugged, a hiking stick can be a helpful thing to have for extra stability.

Observe the following guidelines:

  • Stay on the walking trails, using marked trails wherever they exist.
  • Respect the preserve’s open hours (one hour before sunrise to one hour after sun- set). Overnight camping is not allowed.
  • Do not use bikes or motorized vehicles in the preserve.
  • Do not disturb bird nesting areas.
  • Do not remove any living materials or disturb any vegetation.
  • Remove your own trash and, if possible, any garbage that you see left by others.
  • During the deer bow-hunting season at the preserve (September 15 – January 31), wear a fluorescent orange hat or vest.
  • Leash your dog at all times.

To reach the preserve:

From Route 1, take the Route 2 exit north. Take Route 112 until you reach Old Mill Road on your left. The gravel road to the western parking area is near the utility easement, to the right where the road turns sharply to the left.

From Route 138 West, take a left onto Richmond Townhouse Road (aka Route 112) at the Richmond Town Hall. Continue south for .2 miles, past the Charlestown Elementary School. The unpaved road leading to the eastern trailhead is to your right. Or drive on a short distance and take the first right onto Old Mill Road for the equestrian parking area and western trailhead.

 

Powder Mill Ledges, Smithfield, RI

On the Trail – Paul Dolan
WildforaRI, Spring 2016

Powder Mill Ledges is one of the sixteen public wildlife refuges owned by the Audubon Society of Rhode Island. This refuge also houses the headquarters for the Audubon Society of Rhode Island.

There are three separate trails on the property, taking 35 to 90 minutes, if you want to explore all of the trails. It is an easy to a slightly moderate hike; some areas have a little bit of slope and in the times of high water some muddy areas.

I have always enjoyed this area 
to hike and to use as a learning tool for the amount of change that happens in a short amount
of time. The refuge is about 120 acres, and if the building
is open, you may want to stop inside and get a map and a brochure that explains the area’s
15 marked stations. I have always found it to be an oasis just a step away from civilization. Another unique feature of Audubon refuges is that hunting is not allowed, so they are great places to hike in the fall.

The hike starts immediately after the parking lot, and at the begin- ning you are roaming past a first successional habitat where you can see remnants of old apple orchards, Red Maple, Big Toothed Aspen, and many other species associated with a transition zone.

Traveling a short distance, you come to a bridge looking over a vernal pool, and in the spring the peepers are very loud. In this area you can also view the area that the society manages as an open field habitat. This is managed on a two- year cycle of mowing to enhance open field species and not allow it to go into brush. Bluebird boxes can be seen in the field.

Continuing on, you pass stone walls and, looking to the east and up the slope, you see a quick change in species diversity with more White Pine, a clear indicator of when agricultural use of the area ended. Farther along the trail, legend has it, there is a mound that was an Indian lookout area, now home to a grove of Staghorn Sumac. You go by a swampy area and then see the transition of species; as you go up a hill, you see a variety of oaks and pines. When you get to one of the highest points, you cross a bridge going over an upland swamp, a very unique habitat and a testimony to the soils found in this area.

As you ramble further on, you start to see Pitch Pine, evidence of the area being burnt over the centuries. In this area you must decide whether to continue on the blue trail or cross the power lines where the yellow trail takes you. What is interesting about this intersection is that you have a major habitat change, which because of the power lines has to remain in a constant stage of being a brushy area, where one finds different species of wild- life including those on ATVs that sometime frequent the area (illegally).

Traveling back onto the blue trail headed for headquarters you past old wolf trees, remnants of past pasturing practices, plus more stone walls, where you can still see the barbed wire in the trees. As you make your descent into the open field, de- pending on the wind direction, you can sometimes smell the local food establishments and plan your lunch. Going through the open field in the spring, you can see the tracks of visitors to nesting birds. Even the landscaping around the building is unique in how in blends into the surrounding area.

This is a nice hike not far from your neighborhood.

Directions to Powder Mill Ledges, 12 Sanderson Road, Smithfield, RI

From I-295, take exit 7B onto Route 44 West. At the fourth set of lights, turn left onto Route 5 (Sanderson Road). Turn left at the second driveway into the parking lot.

Photo courtesy of the Audubon Society of Rhode Island

Simmons Mill Pond Management Area, Little Compton, RI

On the Trail – by Gail and Roger Green, Dick Disher
WildfloraRI, Winter 2016

The Simmons
 Mill Pond
 Management
Area is a 500+ acre
site in Little Compton, RI, composed
of several parcels of
land, six ponds, and
more than three miles
of well-marked trails.
 It is located in the
upper reaches of the
 Cold Brook drainage
as it makes its way to
 Quicksand Pond and
 Goosewing Beach.
 Trail access is available
from a parking lot on 
Cold Brook Road near 
the junction with Long
Highway. A second trail originates from a small parking area on John Dyer Road, and canoe or kayak access to Simmons Pond is possible via Cold Brook as it crosses under Cold Brook Road east of the main parking area.

The plant communities here reflect centuries of changing land use patterns. Recorded use of the management area dates back to the 1600s when the town of Little Compton was created. This section of town was set aside as woodlots for farmers throughout the town. About 1750, Cold Brook was dammed to power a gristmill, flooding the adjacent lowland and creating wetland plant communities that still exist around Simmons Mill Pond.

Portions of the woodlots were eventually cleared to create farms in the poorer soils on the east side of Little Compton. A farm-site on the Amy Hart Path (a historic laneway passing through the Management Area) demonstrates the former land use with its old well, barn foundation, and patchwork of stonewalls that enclosed pastures and cultivated fields. Some of the plants growing around the farm-site are characteristic of woodlands that have taken over former farm fields.

Ox carts used the paths until the 1930s to haul firewood from these old woodlots, and subsequently the cart paths were used by woodcutters’ trucks until the 1970s. These historic laneways are now maintained as walking paths through the rare Atlantic Oak-Holly forest. The laneways also pass by four newer ponds that were built in the 1960s.

The State of Rhode Island bought the land from the Chace family 
in 1995 and opened it as a Management Area. Volunteers help maintain the laneways, keep fishing access sites open, and provide signage relating to the native flora and historic features.

Beginning in the main parking area on Cold Brook Road, the trail passes an information sign with a rough map of the area and descends gently for a half mile through Atlantic Oak-Holly forest to the Simmons Mill Pond, the largest of the six ponds. This is the site of the former gristmill, and the old mill’s raceway lined with stone walls is still visible through the elderberry and winterberry shrubs.

Across the dam from the old mill site the trail intersects the main farm loop. You can proceed in either direction around the one mile loop. The right-hand (or east) trail is the old cart-path, which passes through the lush growth of sweet pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia) before arriving at the high dam overlooking Chace pond (to the north) and Horseshoe Pond (to the south). On the high dam of Chace pond, nodding ladies’ tresses (Spiranthes cernua) bloom in the early autumn.

The trail continues by Smith Pond, passes a fork to the right that leads to the parking area on John Dyer Road, and slowly ascends into Atlantic Oak-Holly forest as it reaches the historic farm site at the apex of the loop. From here, you can choose to take the adjoining Amy Hart Loop, which extends the walk for an additional mile through former woodlots, or you can remain on the Farmsite Loop and return to the dam at Simmons Mill Pond.

In the summer, the cart paths are lined with an abundance of ferns: cinnamon (Osmunda cinnamomea), interrupted (Osmunda claytoniana), lady (Athyrium filix-femina), New York (Thelypteris noveboracensis), royal (Osmunda regalis), and in the dryer places some bracken (Pteridium aquilinum). Off the trail grape fern (Botrychium sp.), Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides), netted chain-fern (Woodwardia areolata) and Virginia chain-fern (Woodwardia virginica) can be found.

In the autumn, a succession of asters and goldenrod line the lane way and, as mentioned previously, nodding ladies’ tresses bloom at this time of year.

Spring wildflowers include star-flowers (Trientalis borealis), Canada mayflowers (Maianthemum canadense), and a succession of vio- lets. White violets along wet areas of the cart-paths include lance- leaved violet (V. lanceolata), primrose-leaved violet (V.primulifolia), and sweet white violet (V. blanda). Blue violets include common blue violet (V. papilionacea or sororia), northern blue violet (V. septentrionalis), and marsh blue violet (V. mcucullata).

In addition to being available for walking and botanizing, the area
is open seasonally to hunting and fishing. The land is multiuse, so walkers must wear orange during the hunting season. In winter when the snow is good, it is a wonderful area for cross-country skis and snowshoes, having wide smooth trails and just enough elevation change to keep it interesting. The main parking lot on Cold Brook Road is kept plowed by volunteers.

This area is beautiful and feels very remote, especially when you are walking in the low-lying areas among the ponds. It is accessible all year, and the walking loops
are level and smooth. The Rhode Island Hiking Club ranks them as #1, the designation for the easiest of walks. In addition, the local Boy Scout troop has recently installed sturdy benches in several places overlooking the trails and ponds. It is a hidden treasure, well worth a day of exploration.

 

This management area is located on Cold Brook Road, Little Compton, 02892

 

 

 

A home landscape transformed into a coastal wildlife refuge habitat

Despite two changes in dates due to rain, a full compliment toured the landscape of veteran RIWPS member, Sally Johnson, on September 27.  Sally and her husband Curtis have worked to make their garden serve as a coastal wildlife refuge.

RIWPS Botanizing Walks – A most enjoyable way to learn about native plants!

RIWPS Botanizing Walk at Neutaconkanut Hill Park. On Thursday, October 4, about 16 enthusiastic RIWPS members and friends joined Joe Jamroz, advisory board member for the Neutaconkanut Hill Conservancy, to enjoy spectacular views of Providence at Neutaconkanut Hill Park. Neutaconkanut by the way, means home of squirrels.

Rising nearly 300 feet above Narragansett Bay, this naturally forested park is situated in

RIWPS Fall Plant Sale — And another 600 more native plants in the landscape!

Saturday August 25th was a great day for our public sale at Pawtuxet Village Farmer’s Market in Cranston giving more people opportunity to add native plants to their gardens as cooler weather approaches. And they did come! Not only our members and Cranston area shoppers but also from CT and MA.

Thank you to the volunteers who came to help customers choose plants, set up tables & tents and transported plants and particularly to the Seed Starters East for this sale and outside propagators who are critical to all our sales. The 600 plants sold help to support activities and speakers for RIWPS. Our members look forward to our yearly sales and the wide spring to fall variety of native wildflowers, ferns, shrubs and trees at affordable prices.

We depend heavily on generous volunteers throughout the year to organize these events and invite you to become one of them.Some tasks can be done at home – researching, designing our sale flyers or only require brief time commitment. Other tasks involve working with others year round.

We can use your help whatever your skills or level of knowledge of native plants. In fact volunteering provides opportunities to learn more about the plants and meet other RIWPS members. There are many tasks and we need more people to share the load. Please email plantsales@riwps.org and join an active group of volunteers who work hard to organize these sales. We have already started work on next year’s sale events so contact us to become part of the plant sales group.

Native Plants Attract Birds, Bees and Curious Neighbors

Anne Raver, RIWPS Board Member with over 30 years of experience writing about landscapes and the environment, describes her experiences with her now three-year-old native garden.