In Burrillville woods, hiking can mean solitude – or chance encounter


BURRILLVILLE – Some might say words from a hit 1970s John Denver song apply to this 85 degree August day at Pulaski Park: “Sunshine on the water looks so lovely…”

On this slow-moving afternoon dozens of hikers, picnickers and beach-goers populate the park that’s partly in Burriville and Glocester. Mild summer wind whooshes through a grove of towering Eastern white pine trees along the lake.

Carl Toti takes in the scene.

“Being raised in the country I enjoy nature and feel a part of it,” says the Burrillville man.

Another Burrilville visitor to Pulaski, Jim Zifchock, is at home in the woods, having served as a park security at a couple of different places.

“The peacefulness, the tranquility. The deeper into the woods the quieter; the only sound is your own thoughts,” Zifchock says.

In the woods, those seeking solitude might find they’re alone on a trail but for inhabitants of the forest of the furry or feathered variety. Venturing far enough into the woods of northern Rhode Island might bring an encounter with seldom seen residents of the wilderness.

On adventures at various parks in northern Rhode Island, Zifchock has encountered blue heron, white tailed deer, and beavers. Park visitors believe they’re watching the animals, but the animals are watching them, he says. At a pond, beavers are peering at people and indicating by slapping their tales against the ground as if to say, “This is my pond, my house.”

Toti, also an avid hiker, relishes his unexpected experience on a Burrillville hike of finding a beaver lodge.

Carl Toti

“To see something built by another being shaping its own environment besides man reminds you there are other intelligent beings on this planet capable of doing things for themselves, and in tune with the environment,” Toti said.

Industrious engineers of the woods, beavers are indigenous to the area.

Sightings of moose in northern Rhode Island are rare; yet, when they are spotted, the moose, ignoring quarantine rules, likely have mosied into Rhode Island from Worcester County, Mass. That locale is home to an estimated more than seven hundred moose, a fact posted at the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor website.

Bullwinkle’s real-life cousins might wander into Burrillville searching for a mate. They’re probably not fleeing a hunt: Massachusetts has no moose hunting, unlike its northern neighbors New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont.

This summer in Connecticut, bears made themselves right at home. In June were 17 reports of black bears entering homes, reports the Associated Press. Until a few years ago, sightings of bears was unheard of in modern-day Rhode Island.

Black bears were thought to have disappeared from Rhode Island before 1800. But bears have been sighted in Glocester and Smithfield. In June, a bear was spotted in the woods near the Audubon Powder Mill Ledges Wildlife Refuge in the Greenville section of Smithfield, which is in a restaurant, retail, and traffic-heavy part of town.

In other states, bears have been reintroduced or repopulated, also known as rewilding. Decades ago in Pennsylvania some bears were relocated from the northern to the southern part of the state. The bear population increased dramatically. Recently more than 4,500 bears were “taken” – hunted successfully – by hunters.

Will a visitor to the wild lands of Burrillville encounter a bear? They have been rarely sighted. However, “black bear populations have been slowly increasing throughout southern New England in recent decades. As bear populations increase in neighboring states the sight of a black bear in Rhode Island will become an increasingly common occurrence” states a University of Rhode Island site.

“Wandering males coming from Massachusetts are occasionally sited,” but it’s unlikely to see one, says Lauren Parmelli, Senior Director of Education for Audubon Society of Rhode Island. People might find, “piles of poop, bear scat.”

Time spent in the forests of Burrillville might mean meeting animals. Zifchock recalls a few years ago seeing a Bald Eagle soaring over Pulaski. Last year, one was sighted flying over Route 44 on the suburban Glocester-Smithfield line, a far cry from John Denver’s Rocky Mountains of Colorado.

A walk in woods might bring a pleasant surprise of sighting an unexpected eagle. What wanderers in the woods can count on is peace and quiet.

The forest, “gives some isolation from the daily grind, removal; that’s a good thing.”says Toti. “We need to be with people, but sometimes we want to get away from them.”

For now, signs at Pulaski Park warn people to stay away – six feet away from other people – even on wide wooded trails dense with trees on a warm August day.

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