NORTH SMITHFIELD – It’s been dubbed an “unspoiled refuge” in an otherwise urbanized and highly-developed area and now, residents have parking and access to miles of trails through its woodlands.
Dowling Village developer Brian Bucci has officially filed an easement with the North Smithfield Land Trust giving the public access to a 40-acre forest behind the commercial center. The land connects with the 92-acre Booth Pond Conservation Area owned by the city of Woonsocket.
“The trail has been marked out,” explained Ruth Pacheco, president of the North Smithfield Land Trust.
Pacheco and Land Trust Treasurer Carol Ayala hung a banner on Friday announcing the news, “Conservation Area Coming Soon.”
The trail will begin at “The Club at Dowling Village,” a new 21-unit apartment complex behind Lowe’s Home Improvement that includes a clubhouse, fitness center and pool with a sundeck. The recently completed high-end apartment complex marks the final touches on Bucci’s massive Dowling Village development, some 15 years in the making.
Access to Booth Pond, behind the apartments, was included as part of the original approval for the project.
Four parking spots at the complex have been assigned to trail visitors, but Pacheco notes that guests to the area can park anywhere in the shopping center.
“Walk down the hill and the trail starts,” she said.
Over the next two months, volunteers with the Land Trust – a private, non-profit corporation whose function is to preserve and protect land in the town of North Smithfield – will begin weed whacking, and setting up trail maps and kiosks at the property. A permanent sign will be installed at the entrance marking a new space open to recreation for residents.
“There’s a little more work that has to be done,” Pacheco said.
The land trust president noted that while that her group’s work make the area more hospitable for hikers, the trail is open now. She herself has already hiked it once, traveling around Booth Pond and the nearby power lines.
“It’s available,” Pacheco said.
The property was jointly purchased by the town and the Land Trust in 2014 for open space and recreation, with the understanding Bucci would provide an easement through his property at The Club once construction was complete. Funding for the $925,000 acquisition was provided through a $400,000 grant from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management in 2014, along with $525,000 from North Smithfield’s Open Space Bond.
The land is one of four lots now preserved by the trust, along with the 22-acre Rocky Hill Road land, 17 acres on Mattity Road and 42 acres at Village Way.
According to the RIDEM’s 2014 assessment, the Booth Pond land features, “A diverse area of woodlands, streams, ponds and wetlands.”
“The property contains a mixture of forest and wetlands and boasts significant biodiversity at the site, most notably, it is home to over 50 species of dragonflies and damselflies,” the report notes.
It also protects the area as an important drinking water watershed and is connected to the city of Woonsocket water and sewer infrastructure.
Pacheco noted that the Land Trust is still working out details on how to connect to an existing network of trails that runs through the city-owned property.
“It looked lovely today,” she said of the banner now marking the trail and the conservation area beyond.
NRI NOW will have more news about this new open recreational area in North Smithfield in the upcoming weeks.