Above: George Christie with one of the 34 “creatures” that are part of the R.I. Walks Challenge.
Get out in the woods to find out
By George D. Christie
The seed orders have arrived, the sun feels almost warm, and the squirrels are starting to inspect your garden for treats. Surely it must be planting time. Well, no. Sure, some of your tougher perennials never quite disappeared and this warmer-than-average spring has our bulbs up, but we all know freezing nights and sleet-slick days are still a real possibility. Which makes this time of year a good one for taking advantage of the warm days to get out and do some local hiking.
This story starts out in South County, travels to East Bay and ends up right here in East Greenwich. I currently work part time at the Rhode Island Natural History Survey at URI’s East Farm in South County. Doing that work, I found myself reading about all sorts of interesting natural places, many of which I had not visited. So, to enhance my understanding of my work, I decided to spend more time getting to know the various nature preserves and reserves throughout Rhode Island. My wife, Lucy, thought this sounded like fun, so the two of us set off on our first destination, the Haile Farm Preserve, an East Bay property recently purchased by the Warren Land Trust.
Located west of Route 136 in the northern part of Warren, the site is 61 acres of shoreline woods and salt marsh edging the Palmer River. I have a bit of nostalgia for this area, as I used to conduct mosquito-control work along this section of the river when I ran Warren’s mosquito abatement program in the 1980s and ‘90s. I suppose carrying a backpack sprayer through swamp and marsh would hardly seem to warrant nostalgia, but there were turtles and flowers and huckleberries along the way, so I was always in good company, though often wet and tired. Still, I was interested to see what it had become of it in 15-plus years, and I was pleased to find it much the same as I remembered, though the trails cleared by the Land Trust members were in far better shape than those I had walked years ago.
When you get there, don’t be discouraged as you turn right into an industrial area, there is dedicated parking and the trails are well marked. Five minutes in and you are barely aware of the throw-away architecture of modern industrial America, at least when we went in late summer. I could go on about the wetland woods and expanses of marsh, and the powerline right-of-way that, with infrequent mowing, allows for many more flowers than either the woods or marsh, but the real find at Haile was a strange metal creature attached to a tree along the way.
Scanning the QR Code below, we were informed we had found our first Nature Creature, of which 34 now exist on Rhode Island Land Trust properties throughout the state. What brilliance is this!? Known as the R.I. Walks Challenge, the RI Land Trust Council commissioned artist Greg Rebis, at The Steel Yard in Providence, to create whimsical figures based on the plants of Rhode Island. Located along generally easier paths of the extensive state land trust properties, finding these figures is a great way to connect families with nature, as the many Instagram photos of happy people standing by their most recent find attest.
As I promised, our travels now bring us back to East Greenwich where one such creature has taken up residence in the awkwardly named Frenchtown Park, Laurel Wood, and Fry Family Preserve. I won’t go into any more details, but rather I’ll encourage you to visit https://www.riwalks.org/challenge.php and use these warm days to get your family out and connecting with the wonderful nature all around us. Not sure? Check their Instagram at #riwalkschallenge for one of the best sets of happy photos on the web.
A couple of notes: First, not every preserve allows dogs and almost all locations require dogs to be on a leash. I know a lot of people don’t quite get why this is so, but dogs do present a real threat to wildlife. Rather than fight these rules in nature preserves, I suggest advocating for dog parks. Both your dog and the nature preserves will benefit. Second, some lands may allow hunting or be located adjacent to hunting areas. Please learn and abide by the rules for wearing orange. Finally, stay on the paths wherever possible. Leaving only footsteps isn’t enough when the footsteps crush delicate, possibly rare plants and animals. The reason you are enjoying your time in nature is because those who came before you left the preserve in good shape. Please be as kind to those who follow.
Formally trained in entomology and landscape architecture, George Christie has worked in mosquito control, environmental education and garden design and plant sales. He currently works for the Rhode Island Natural History Survey managing their rare species database.