Celebrate World Water Day Today and Every Day!
While we are the Westerly LAND Trust, but many of our properties lie on the banks of the Pawcatuck River, host streams, consist of wetlands or salt marsh , or play integral roles in natural flood storage. Today, being World Water Day, we’d like to take a moment to appreciate this interconnectedness between land and water. Read on for fun facts, definitions and which WLT properties you can visit to appreciate the water. And download the Westerly Land Trust Trails App prior to exploring our properties. You’ll find trail maps and the Passport Program.
Reform the reputation! Swamps are not gross, dark places like we may all imagine. Swamps are unique wetlands that provide habitat for many species of plants and animals, and offer excellent ecosystem services. They sequester carbon through peat, burying the carbon emissions and helping offset carbon dioxide. Peat accumulates under standing water and gets packed down, preventing oxygen from reaching the organic material and slowing decomposition, trapping the carbon underground. There are two types of peatlands: fens and bogs.
- Swamp– A wetland that supports woody plants and trees
- Wetland– A transition zone between land and water; not completely underwater, but not totally dry, either
- Peat- An accumulation of partially decomposed vegetation and organic material
- Fen- An alkaline (basic) wetland with a constant source of ground water
- Bog- An acidic wetland formed in an enclosed depression usually sustained by rainwater
- Marsh- A wetland that supports reeds and grasses
WLT Preserves with swamps: Crandall Family Preserve and Barlow Nature Preserve
Crandall Family Preserve
Crandall Family Preserve is one of Westerly Land Trust’s largest preserves at 423.7 acres. It is a giant wetland within the Aguntaug, or Crandall, Swamp, which is Rhode Island’s largest Atlantic White Cedar Swamp, named for its support of Atlantic White Cedar trees. While this property has bogs, fens and swamps, it does not contain any marshes.
When you visit Crandall Family Preserve make sure you look for the beaver lodge! You may even see busy beavers hard at work. Also, this area is home to the endangered boghaunter dragonfly. Crandall Family Preserve is wheelchair accessible, making the wonders of nature available to everyone. The red and yellow trails are located on private land and are not open to the public unless accompanied by the Westerly Land Trust. Parking is at the end of Pound Road in Westerly. Take the easy path to the left, which leads to a scenic overlook.
Eleanor F. and Edward W. Barlow Nature Preserve
This 80- acre preserve is the new home of the Westerly Land Trust offices and three unique agricultural operations. The Barlow Nature Preserve contains forest, freshwater wetland, and farmland, and borders the protected Newton Swamp Management Area. This property is part of the Tomaquag Brook-Pawcatuck River watershed, which is a sole source aquifer and ground water recharge area, meaning it contains the majority of drinking water for a specific area and is replenished by water seeping underground back to the aquifer. McGowan Brook runs through the property and drains into the Newton Swamp Management Area. For more information on the history of the Barlow Nature Preserve, click here or swing by 449 Westerly-Bradford Road to grab a history booklet.
Can you spot the three farms when you visit the Barlow Nature Preserve? Each focuses on a different agricultural field: produce, flowers and compost. If you hike the red trail, you encounter a small pine forest. And if you’re still and quiet, you may see white-tailed deer and several species of raptors, or birds of prey. To access the intertwined yellow and red trails, park off Rt. 91. For the blue trail, the Westerly Land Trust Offices, Frontier Farm, Echo Rock Flowers and Vita Nova Compost, park in the lot at 449 Westerly-Bradford Road.
Several of the Westerly Land Trust preserves contain or border streams thanks to the proximity of the Pawcatuck River. Different types of streams include brooks, creeks and rivers. These narrow bodies of water start at a source, often melting snow from a mountain top. They can vary in depth, speed and size. Stream sources are faster, steeper and larger than downstream components, causing more rapid stream bed erosion. In flatter, slower areas of a stream, the water erodes the bank, ultimately creating a floodplain. Streams host riparian ecosystems, which aid in water purification, flood control, nutrient cycling, waste decomposition and fisheries.
- Stream- A body of water that has a current and is always in motion moving downhill
- Source- The area of water that feeds or starts the stream
- Stream bed- The floor or ground under the water
- Bank- The side walls of the stream
- Floodplain- A flat, level area surrounding a stream
- Riparian ecosystem- The life-supporting area between the land and the stream, mostly consisting of the bank
WLT Preserves with streams: Wildwood, Riverwood, Grills Preserve, Flora Whiteley Preserve, Mastuxet Brook Greenway South, Wahaneeta Preserve
Just under 5 acres, this preserve is bordered by a small stream and its wetland. The stream is an offshoot of the Pawcatuck River, whose source is a large lake in South Kingstown called Worden Pond. The gradient of the stream found at Wildwood is not steep, so the water erodes the stream bank. You can look for small fish, aquatic invertebrates, and algae. To visit Wildwood, park on the side of the road near our sign on Forrestal Drive. There is a small walkway to the left that runs between Forrestal Drive and Langley Street.
Riverwood, 148 acres of woodlands, rocky ridges and freshwater wetlands, is part of the Westerly Land Trust’s River Corridor Initiative to keep access to the river clean and free of pollutants. There is a Boy Scout camp at the entrance to the preserve, with trails just beyond. In the spring and summer the mountain laurel is in full bloom. The orange trail is bordered on the eastern side by the Pawcatuck River and Chapman Pond can be viewed from rocky outcroppings. Begin on the orange perimeter trail to access the blue, red, and yellow trails that run throughout the preserve.
At 543.5 acres, Grills Preserve is the largest Westerly Land Trust property. It boasts 2.5 miles of rover frontage on the Pawcatuck River. The preserve consists of extensive freshwater wetlands, a lagoon, upland forest, and exposed bedrock. The 2008 BioBlitz took place here, during which 1,113 species of plants and animals were identified within a 24-hour period.
On the Grills Preserve, the Polly-Coon Bridge, named after female land owners in the mid-1800s, Patty Coon and Polly Burdick, connects Hopkinton to Bradford. At the edge of the bridge is an 8-foot stone cairn that marks the water level of the flood of 2010. Without Grills Preserve acting as a natural floodplain, all that water would have carried on to downtown Westerly. Climb to the top of Big Hill and you’ll be at one of the tallest points in Westerly. Leftover sluice gate structures can still be found from the Bradford Dye Association’s attempts to mitigate chemical water pollution in the Pawcatuck River. And two historical cemeteries can be found on this land with graves of Revolutionary War veterans and the Larkins, a local farming family
Park in the lot at the end of Bowling Lane in Bradford, RI. The blue and orange trails begin beyond the kiosk and split off in opposite directions, and the orange trail can also be accessed opposite the outhouse in the parking lot. Extensive trails continue farther out and branch off from the blue trail.
Flora Whitely, although small, contains frontage on the Pawcatuck River, extensive marshes, wetlands, woodlands, and a seasonal stream. Upland from the river bank, there is an open meadow and knoll. The preserve contains a beautiful picnic spot on a granite overlook. When you start the trail, there is a great view of the Pawcatuck Dam. Perhaps you’ll spot the river otters that are commonly seen here. Flora Whiteley is an excellent place to drop a canoe or kayak into the river. There is limited parking before the chain at 197 Potter Hill Road. Walk across the grassy field to the white trail, which runs through the overlook and to the meadow. Turn back at the end of the white trail, this time walking the red trail to cover all hiking paths
Mastuxet Brook Greenway South
Mastuxet Brook Greenway South in named for Mastuxet Brook, a tributary of the Pawcatuck River that runs along the entire path for about 0.5 miles. The trail ends with a small waterfall called Diamond Falls. Fun fact about this preserve: John Babcock and Mary Lawton were the first settlers of Westerly after eloping and canoeing to nearby Mastuxet Cove. While you are on the trail you may see book trout, oak trees and boulders known as erratics that are left over from glacial recession 12,000 years ago. There are several parking spaces at Rotary Park next to the tennis courts. Take the first left on the walkway to enter the WLT orange trail.
Wahaneeta Preserve, comprised of woodlands, freshwater wetlands, streams, and a pond, was the former Girl Scouts of Rhode Island Camp Wahaneeta. The meadow, pavilion, and cabin give this property a quaint lodge resort feel. While hiking on the trails, you’ll find an old stone chimney from a colonial home, a historic cemetery from 1867, and multiple bat houses. Park in front of the kiosk at 118 Moorehouse Road, and walk through the meadow for the orange, white and blue trail heads.
Vernal pools are shallow bodies of water that fill in spring or fall with rain, snowmelt, or rising ground water. They often dry up by mid-summer because they do not have a constant source of water. This makes them unique wetland habitats, supporting animals like amphibians and insects that spend their larval stages in aquatic environments. These habitats and animals are highly sensitive to human influences like deforestation, urbanization, agriculture, and pollution, and depend on the surrounding upland woods to manage the health of their downstream counterparts. Upland habitats are also important for the adult stages of insects and amphibians like dragonflies, frogs, and salamanders. Vernal pools in Rhode Island are commonly found in ground depressions called kettles.
VERNAL POOLS GLOSSARY:
- Snowmelt- surface runoff produced from melting snow
- Wetland- A transition zone between land and water; not completely underwater, but not totally dry, either
- Amphibians- Cold-blooded vertebrates that have an aquatic larval stage with gills before their land-dwelling, adult stages with lungs
- Insects- Animals with a segmented body, 3 pairs of legs, and up to two pairs of wings
- Larval- Typically inactive, juvenile or newborn forms of an animal
- Urbanization- Growing housing or building developments that increase human activity or population
- Depression- a landform sunken or depressedbelow the surrounding area
- Kettle- A depression formed by retreating glaciers or draining floodwaters
WLT Preserves with vernal pools: Dr. John Champlin Glacier Park
Dr. John Champlin Glacier Park
Dr. John Champlin Glacier Park is 135.1 acres between Shore Road and Tom Harvey Road. The terrain is a template for glacial history with kettle ponds, hills and valleys, and large stones left behind called erratics. When you arrive at Charlie’s Overlook, you’ll be able to view Block Island and Long Island. There are old pieces of squared granite left on the sides of the trails. Perhaps you could discover where they came from…it’s still a mystery today. You can see research in action at the chestnut tree nursery which is growing blight-resistant American chestnut trees to reintroduce this species to the northeast. Can you find both vernal pools on this property? And when you do, what kind of reptiles and amphibians can you find surrounding them? A forest rehabilitation project was conducted with the Natural Resources Conservation Service to provide habitat for the New England cottontail rabbit and several songbird species. You can park by the kiosk on Kettle Close or on Newbury Drive off Tom Harvey Road. Enter the blue trail from Kettle Close to reach the expansive trail network farther in. Enter the orange trail from Newbury Drive to reach the perimeter trails and expansive trail network.
A salt marsh is an incredibly important environment for the animals that live in it, and for its ecosystem services. They are flooded by tides, which deposit sand and sediments through shoaling. Salt marshes can have freshwater inputs from land and salt water inputs from the ocean, creating brackish water. Winnapaug Pond, the salt marsh in Westerly, has few freshwater inputs, and instead relies on tidal mixing as the waves enter from Little Narragansett Bay and recede back to the ocean. Salt marshes are shallow, which allows sunlight to reach the sea floor, providing an ideal environment for eel grass. Eel grass are soil stabilizers, keeping sediment in place and offering nursery habitat for fish and shellfish. As vegetation dies, is sinks to the sea floor and forms peat, making salt marshes peatlands.
SALT MARSH GLOSSARY:
- Salt Marsh- A body of water between land and open saltwater
- Ecosystem Service- Benefits to humans from natural processes in healthy environments
- Shoaling- Large waves folding in on themselves when they enter shallower water than their height
- Brackish- Slightly salty water caused by a mix of fresh and salt water
- Nursery- An area where juvenile animals are born and raised
- Peat- An accumulation of partially decomposed vegetation and organic material
- Peatland- A piece of land where the ground is made of peat
WLT Preserves that have salt marsh: Winnapaug Farm Preserve
Winnapaug Farm Preserve
Winnapaug Farm Preserve borders Winnapaug Pond, the salt marsh in southern Rhode Island. This piece of land consists of woodland, freshwater wetlands, and a salt marsh, along with hay and corn fields. The preserve is bordered by land maintained by the Audubon Society of Rhode Island to reduce habitat fragmentation. Three stone cairns stand in the midst of the agricultural field. You’ll notice the steady gradient of forest to shrubs to reeds as you move closer to the salt marsh. Be sure to listen to the waves roll in to the marsh and spot the many sea birds. Park on the side of Shore Road, then walk down the stone wall path to access the walking path. Follow the trail down to the salt marsh and loop around to a pine forest before returning to the fields.