Tag Archive for: walks

Long & Ell Pond – Hopkinton, RI

Long and Ell Ponds Natural Area in Hopkinton – Bruce Fellman

WildforaRI, Fall 2021

The mantra among real estate professionals is, of course, “location, location, location,” and this phrase was certainly ringing loud and clear as my wife and I looked over the small ranch house in Hopkinton in 1978 that we’d soon decide to buy. To be sure, all the usual inducements — decent schools, good construction, and a nice neighborhood — played a role in our decision-making, but for me, the ultimate tipping point was this: the house was right down the rural road from a natural paradise known as the Long and Ell Pond preserves.

Ell Pond, BFellman

I’d first started to trek the area’s rugged trails, which many hikers regard as the most challenging in Rhode Island, in the late 1960s, when I discovered that rumors about Long Pond’s reputation as a clothing-optional swimming hole were delightfully true. (Yes, I often took the plunge in the altogether.) Several years later, on an excursion with the venerated University of Rhode Island plant scientist Elmer Palmatier as part of his legendary Field Botany course, I set an uneasy foot on Ell Pond’s quaking bog, that thick fringe of sphagnum moss and other acid-loving vegetation that could miraculously support the weight of a budding naturalist.

Since those halcyon days and occasional nights, I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve explored the area, which continues to call to me, despite the fact that we outgrew the house and moved to Connecticut four decades ago; swimming, suited or not, has long been banned; and the quaking bog has, like its chief supporter, passed into history. (Elmer departed this earth in 1995.) But if you’re physically up to it — I’ve seen nimble youngsters and their folks and grandparents navigating the time- worn boulders and wooden stair steps, many of which are lovingly crafted and maintained by the RI chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club — you won’t find a more stunning or intriguing botanical venue in the state.

Long Pond, BFellman

One of the chief attractions of the Long and Ell Ponds Natural Area (LEPNA), which is managed by The Nature Conservancy, the Audubon Society of Rhode Island, and the RI Department of Environmental Management, is a highly unusual lowland forest dominated by native great rosebay rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum) and mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia). While both species are common enough along the state’s byways and in many gardens, there’s something about Long and Ell’s highly acidic rocky soil and moisture regime, to say nothing of its persistent isolation from development, that has enabled the Hopkinton venue to provide a refuge for a profusion of evergreens that call to mind the slopes of the Appalachian highlands rather than the typical woods of the Ocean State.

Probably the best time to visit LEPNA is when the target plants are in bloom: early-to-mid June for the laurels, late June to early July for R. maximum. They don’t put on a show every year, but even an off-display is worth the trek, and when the blossoms are abundant, as the laurels were in 2021 — I   can’t vouch for the “rhodies” this past year, since I was, at the time, still too hobbled from surgery to make the trip — the sight and delicate scents of the bee-laden flowers is grist for the memory mill.

Nor are these evergreens the only plants worth noticing. As you search for good handholds among well-worn rocks and boot-polished exposed tree roots, the exercise makes you slow down and pay closer attention to the landscape. In short order, you begin noticing things you might have missed, among them an abundance of mushrooms, lichens, and mosses.

As the trail climbs towards higher and drier spots, the broad-leafed plants give way to mountain chestnut oak (Quercus montana) and scrub oak (Quercus ilicifolia), as well as pitch pine (Pinus rigida), species that can fare well on the moisture-challenged rocky slopes. In other parched spots, I noticed patches of trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens), eastern spicy wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) and a wand-flowered goldenrod (Solidago spp.) that I wish I could have collected to determine its precise identity. (Bring field guides or have a plant photo ID app on your phone —collecting is definitely not encouraged.)

At approximately the height of land, the main trail presents the hiker with three choices. To the east is a short descent to a massive rock outcrop that offers stunning views of Long Pond and the surrounding forest. Stay on the main trail to pick your way down an impressive gorge and make a formidable trek around Long Pond that botanically offers a repeat of what the observer has already seen. (Unless you’ve brought a second car, this walk also demands either turning around at the DEM parking  area   and retracing  your steps back to the North Road trailhead or hiking  a  series  of  dusty  backwoods roads to return to your vehicle.)

For plant aficionados, however, the best option is to take the fork that leads west to Ell Pond. Officially, the trail ends on a large rocky hill, technically termed a monadnock, marked with a National Park Service plaque noting that in 1974  Ell Pond was designated a National Natural Landmark. Geologists have determined that Ell, which is increasingly obscured by trees, is a “kettle pond,” a body of water that formed when huge blocks of ice left behind more than 10,000 years ago by retreating glaciers melted and filled in deep, glacier-carved gouges in the landscape.

Sundew, BFellman

There’s no path to the pond, but I’ve been there and can report that the area is a spongy wonderland dominated by Atlantic white cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides), an increasingly rare species that forms the core of a globally threatened wetlands ecosystem. The quaking bog that once fringed the shoreline is no longer intact but the acid soil on the edge of the pond still provides a welcoming environment for charismatic botanical carnivores such as purple pitcher plant (Sarracenia purpurea) and round-leaved sundew (Drosera rotundifolia), along with a host of intriguing wet-feet specialists, such as the Massachusetts fern (Parathelypteris simulata), swamp loosestrife (Decodon verticillatus), common arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia), and various cranberries (Vaccinium spp.)

 But look quick. Ell, like many kettle ponds, is in the process of filling in and becoming a wet meadow. While climate change will no doubt exacerbate the inevitable stages of succession, there’s still at least a little bit of time to savor this well-preserved slice of botanical intrigue. Just don’t count on a swim.

On the Trail with Doug McGrady

I like being on—and off—the trail with Doug McGrady. Sometimes, he veers off into the brush or through the trees or into the swamps, and you just follow. Or not, it’s up to you. I’ve seen more than one cautious soul turn back as Doug keeps a brisk pace up and down hills, across streams too wide to leap (wear boots, balance on rocks or embrace wet feet), through buggy meadows (insect repellent helps), and along marshes stinking of rotting seaweed at low tide.

“Yes, I will take families and children on walks in the winter!”

Winter is a great time to be outside with Becky Settje RWIPS Family walk leader. On February 20, Becky Settje organized a nature walk and activities for families at the Caratunk Wildlife Refuge for Bridgepointe Christian Church, East Providence. Activities included wrapping a walking stick with yarn and adding pinecones, sensory bottles, and a leaf ID sheet made with leaves, labels and contact paper. The walking sticks were a huge hit and the children eagerly used them for a one-mile winter walk.

Becky is offering a three part Family Walk Series on the first Sunday of April, May and June. In addition walks can also be arranged on a per request basis.  Becky will work with you to coordinate the date, place and time of the walk and any specific topics, badge work or interests you would like included in your walk. More information about these walks.

Simmons Mill Pond Management Area, Little Compton, RI

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

The Simmons
 Mill Pond
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.