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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

Susanna’s Woods – Susan B. DuVal Trail, Wakefield, RI

On the Trail — by Clark Collins
WildfloraRI, Spring 2014

The DuVal Trail, located in the village of Perryville on the north side of the Old Post Road is a three-mile network of rustic trails looping through the 240-acre Susanna’s Woods nature preserve. The preserve includes 167 acres that are held by the South Kingstown Land Trust either in fee title or conservation easement, and 74 acres that are owned by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management.

The late Helena-Hope Gammell, a founding member of SKLT initiated this trail system in 1983 with her first land donation of four acres, and continued to add to the preserve by donating other parcels and conservation easements over her land as well as financial assistance the acquisition of abutting properties. The entire project is named Susanna’s Woods in memory of Miss Gammell’s niece, Susannah Klebovitz. Expansion of the reserve has continued to the present year (2013) with a major land donation of 29 acres bequeathed in the will of Virginia Jones, her neighbor and collaborator. The trail itself is named in memory of Susan B. Duval, whose bequest helped pay for the trail and development. Additional assistance has been received from the National Park Service Rivers & Trails Program.

The DuVal Trail system offers some of the Land Trust’s most inviting and unique hiking experiences. The main entrance is located adjacent to the historic graveyard and former site of the Western Meeting House of the South Kingstown Friends (Quaker) Meeting, dating from the late seventeenth to the late nineteenth centuries. George Fox, the founder of the Religious Society of Friends, is said to have spoken at the meetinghouse during his tour of the American colonies in 1672.

From the parking area in front of the cemetery, the marked trail progresses up into the hill country known as the Charlestown Recessional Moraine, a long band of hills and valleys stretching from Wakefield, RI, to Watch Hill and farther down the north shore of Long Island, NY, which accumulated as poorly sorted glacial debris some 12,000 years ago as the edge of the glacier paused in its recession.

Most of the rocks are igneous and metamorphic (granite, schist, gneiss) derived from the bedrock in the surrounding area and to the north. The relief between the hilltops and valley floors range from 20 to 50 feet and slopes are often quite abrupt—between 15 and 30 percent. The soils are droughty, extremely stony and acidic. Due to their poor soil quality and inaccessibility most of these hills generally served as woodlots for the plantations located in the adjoining more fertile coastal plain. Some of the old cart paths from this period are still visible. Some isolated hollows have tillable soils that supported small homesteads in the past, and you may see here and there remnants of stonewalls and foundations.

Almost all of this area is now reforested with white, scarlet and black oak, sassafras, white pine, pitch pine, American beech, hickory and other trees common in the mixed upland forest of southern New England. Areas along the east of the trail head were planted with white pine and hemlock during the 1970s as a tree farm and habitat improvement program sponsored by the USDA Soil Conservation Service (now the Natural Resources Conservation Service), but there has been no tree harvest in this area due to its challenging topography. Linden trees still stand along an abandoned road to the Jones Camp in the western part of the preserve.

Lichen

There is a dense understory of huckleberry and low- highbush blueberry, with thickets of mountain laurel, Sheep-laurel, inkberry, green briar and ferns. There is little sign of infestation by exotic, invasive vegetation due to its undisturbed condition and to the control of Russian olive that has taken place according to a forest management plan developed in 2003. On the many exposed boulders and stones and trees along the trail there is a diverse population of lichens, mushrooms and fungi.

Throughout the year the charms of the trail system are many. As the trail climbs and descends among the hills and hollows, the visitor sees the landscape from many angles, and the three loop trails off the main trail introduce a diversity of microclimates created by variations in sun exposure to the slopes, differences in soil fertility and water tables, and vegetation. An overlook on the main trail has a clear view to the south over the coastal plain, the Trustom Pond National Wildlife Refuge and, in the distance , Block Island.

Mountain Laurel

Mountain Laurel

In mid-June the trails are spectacularly decorated by blooms of mountain laurel. In late summer birds on their southward migration stop to rest and feed on the berry bushes. The new Jones Camp spur trail passes to the north through well-preserved old stone enclosures and leads to Bull Head Pond, a glacial kettle-hole pond.

Birds common to the area include wood thrush, hermit thrush, whip-poor-will, oven bird, wild turkey, towhee, vireo, yellow-rumped warbler, pine warbler, common yellowthroat, nuthatch, chickadee, and titmouse; also hairy, downy, and red–bellied woodpeckers; red, merlin, and sharp-shinned and Cooper’s hawks; ruffed grouse, junco, robin, veery, red tail hawk, great horned owl and barred owl, field sparrow, chipping sparrow, ruby crowned kinglet, brown creeper, and yellow-bellied sapsucker. (I gave up trying to figure which of these bird names should be capitalized. Some of them are a specific species, and some are general.)

We would rate the difficulty of the walk as moderate; the paths are marked with blazes and have location maps at the trail head and at the intersections of loop trails and the main trail. They are kept in a natural state at a cleared width of approximately four to six feet by rotary brush mowers and lopping shears. The trail is designed to avoid steep, erodible slopes and conform to the gentler contours, while seeking out interesting features such as large boulders, stone walls, remarkable vegetation and rare views. Sites that are habitat for rare or endangered plants or animals are avoided.

• Access to the trails by motor vehicle is limited only to the trail head on Post Road, and a pull-off area on Gravelly Hill Road. In few places the trails have climbs of 15 percent, and hikers should watch their footing for slope, rocks and roots. This trail is not handicapped accessible.

• Hunting is prohibited within 500 feet of the trails, but deer hunting in season may be allowed on other off-trail parts of the surrounding properties. Wearing high-visibility orange clothing is recommended on all wooded paths during deer hunting seasons.

• Hikers are advised that this area is likely to have ticks, and that tick repellents and close inspection for ticks after hiking is advised.

• We hope that you will visit this site, and enjoy it is much as we at the South Kingstown Land Trust do. Please contact Clarkson Collins at clark.collins@sklt.org to share any observations or experiences you may have on the trails.

 

Driving directions:

From Wakefield proceed Southwest on Main Street for 1.49 miles to Route 1. Stay on Route 1 South for about 2.9 miles then take the exit marked Post Road / Perryville. Proceed 0.31 miles to a stop sign at the intersection of Ministerial Road (Route 110). Go straight on Post Road for 1.28 miles, passing Moonstone Beach Road on your left, to a parking area on the right at the foot of the Quaker Burial Ground. The trail begins about 50 feet west of the parking area on the same side.

A trail map is available on the South Kingstown Land Trust website, sklt.org.