On the Trail — by Kathy Barton
WildfloraRI, Spring 2012
Each spring the Hepatica (Liverwort) lures me out to the Limerock Preserve of the Nature Conservancy in Lincoln, R.I. Wandering in the early spring woodland, poking through leaf litter, I begin to feel the changing rhythm of the seasons as winter gives way to spring and a new chapter of botanical exploration opens.
With a name like Limerock it shouldn’t be hard to figure out the area’s chief claim to fame. Surprisingly, though, the limestone for which the area is famous is really dolomitic marble. Regardless, because of this deposit, Limerock has given us a rich cultural and botanical heritage.
Limerock has been the home of quarrying operations since the 1660s when Thomas Harris and Gregory Dexter began a mining operation along what is now Route 146 in Lincoln. You can see one of the old quarries from the highway. The Conklin Limestone Company stopped working their last quarry in 2004 and allowed it to flood, thus ending 330 years of operation.
Unlike other New England colonies Rhode Island was blessed with an abundance of this easily quarried limestone for plaster and mortar, and this allowed for the development of stoneenders, a house design unique to Rhode Island. A stone-ender has a massive stone chimney made up of mortar and fieldstone. Usually, this chimney takes up all of one end wall. Locally, the Valentine Whitman House and the Eleazer Arnold House on Great Road, Lincoln. are surviving examples of this style. Around 1900, electric trolley car service was extended from Providence to Woonsocket and Burrillville. This trolley rocketed north to Woonsocket at 35 miles an hour.
The old rail bed forms the main trail of the preserve. Remains of the trolley line can be seen in the drainage ditches along the path. Two streams pass under the road bed through culverts that are still functioning. The line was abandoned in the early 1930s. The trolley bed/trail ends at Wake Robin plaza and condominiums. You can see the condos from the path. For those of you who in the past entered from this end of the preserve and remember having a rest break at Wendy’s, Wendy’s closed and was torn down in 2011.
In 1986 the Limerock Preserve became one of the fi rst properties in Rhode Island to be purchased and protected by the Nature Conservancy. At that time it was home to 30 rare species of plants, the largest population of any site in the state. The preserve was created thanks to the generosity of landowners Dorothy and Raymond Houghton, the Plante Family and the Wilbur Family. The Conklin Limestone Company donated the mineral rights. Additional support was provided by the Champlin Foundation and individual donors.
Unfortunately, a number of the rare plants have been lost. Round-leaved Yellow Violet (Viola rotundifolia) hasn’t been seen for about ten years. The Lilyleaved Twayblade (Liparis liliifolia) was lost when part of the ledge on which it was growing gave way in the 1990s. And Showy Orchis (Galearis spectabilis) is another that seems to have disappeared from the area. At one time Large Purple-fringed Orchid (Platanthera grandifl ora) grew, but I haven’t seen it in years. The trail system is very simple. It consists of the trolley line running straight from Wilbur Road almost to the Wake Robin plaza on Rte. 116 with a loop trail around the Manton Reservoir.
There’s a map posted at the trail head. You enter the Preserve from Wilbur Road and follow the trolley line a short distance. The trail turns left and goes up the embankment. Watch for this, because if you continue straight, you will find yourself wishing you had boots. The drainage system has broken down in this section of the road bed, and it fl oods out, especially in spring. On the bright side, this fl ooded out area functions as a vernal pool for the local amphibian population.
As you walk along the top of the embankment, notice the Common Shinleaf (Pyrola elliptica). You can also fi nd Beaked Hazelnut (Corylus americana) along the way. Looking down at the rail bed, the Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) and Wood Ferns (Dryopteris spp.) rejoice in the rich habitat and are rampant.
The trail eventually drops down and rejoins the trolley bed. Walking along, you can see Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetida), Wind Anemones (Anemone quinquefolia) Marsh Marigolds (Caltha palustris), Hop Hornbeams (Ostrya virginiana), Spicebush (Lindera benzoin), Black Birches (Betula lenta) and in spring hundreds of blue violets in bloom. Watch for the start of the loop trail on your right. A stream crosses it just where it joins the trolley line. Green and white markers are posted on the trees. If you look around on the left of the main trail, you may be able to fi nd Nodding Trillum (Trillium cernuum) hiding in the underbrush. This trail circles the reservoir, crossing a newly rebuilt dam. Watch for Hepatica along this trail. Hepatica grows where it pleases at Limerock and is apt to appear anywhere along the trails. Note: Taking the loop trail at this point allows you to walk down a very steep hill rather than up it, although I personally prefer walking it from the other direction.
Among other plants that may be seen on the refuge are Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum pedatum), Rattlesnake Fern Botrychium virginianum), White Baneberry (Actaea pachypoda), Perfoliate Bellwort (Uvularia perfoliata), Dwarf Ginseng (Panax trifolius), and Allegheny Crowfoot (Ranunculus allegheniensis).
When the loop trail rejoins the trolley line, take a left. Almost immediately the trail passes between rock outcroppings and ledges. The largest and last set of ledge is home to Wild Columbines (Aquilegia canadensis), Early Saxifrage (Saxifraga virginiensis), and Ebony Spleenwort (Asplenium platyneuron). From here, the rail bed crosses a ravine and is raised 20 to 30 feet above the surrounding land. There’s a nice view of both the Manton Reservoir and a brook that passes under the trail. Hepatica can be found along this trail. From here, it’s a straight run past the start of the loop trail and back to your car.
For me, Limerock Preserve is the quintessential northern Rhode Island spring woodland and viewing the Hepatica a rite of spring.
Photos by Kathy Barton, taken at Limerock Preserve.