Trust to unveil hiking trail with rich history, first orchard of its kind, at guided tour Saturday

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BURRILLVILLE – Members of the Burrillville Land Trust will take hikers on a short walk on a trail rich with local history this Saturday at a grand opening said to lead visitors back in time.

The trust will introduce the newly reconstructed Bobcat Loop Trail in the Edward D. Vock Conservation Area, on a hike across property owned by the indigenous peoples of the region all the way up until 2008 – when the organization purchased it from descendants of Vock. The one-mile loop trail takes hikers on a journey from when the glaciers covered the area; to when native peoples lived on the land; to when settlers brought sheep, quarried stone and built ponds and a sawmill for livelihood, according to the trust.

Following the event, the trail will be open to the general public from dawn to dusk, seven days a week, all year long.

“This is such a good trail,” said Paul Roselli, president of the organization, and tour guide for the roughly 90-minute hike. The journey, he said, is, “easy on the feet and full of history. The walk is a walk back in time.”

The tour begins at 10 a.m., with visitors parking along Jackson Schoolhouse Road and Olney Keach Road, and meeting at the trailhead. Members of the trust will lead the group as the trail quickly moves through what was once one of Rhode Island’s original tree farms. Hikers will see planted rows of old pines – some over 100 feet tall.

The elevation increases as the trail goes along a glacial esker – a long winding ridge made mostly of gravel and sand – and over Leland Brook, part of the Leland Watershed which connects to the Clear River, the Branch River, and eventually the Blackstone River leading to Narragansett Bay.

After crossing the brook, hikers will find depressions in the soil that show where people dug up granite rocks long ago, taking the sculpted stone away and leaving the hole behind and intact, according to information released by the trust. Halfway along the hike, the group will come to Fox’s Rock – a ledge outcrop with a good view of the woodlands below.

The loop will also cross over Carp Pond, with an earthen damn hand dug by Vock himself, and stocked with carp for food.

The event will also serve as an opportunity for the trust to announce the start of Rhode Island’s first planned American Chestnut tree conservation orchard. The hike continues through an area that holds the state’s first wild plantings of the trees, which once grew throughout the region. Remnants, known as sprouts, still pop out of the ground from existing tree stumps, according to the group.

“The land trust is the first in the area to naturalize what we hope are disease resistant American Chestnut,” noted a release.

“We hope these trees will survive,” said Roselli of the Germplasm Conservation Orchard. “American Chestnut has been planted in orchards and in trial studies. This will be the first time in RI that American Chestnut will be planted in the wild. Who knows? We may grow chestnut that is resistant to the pathogenic fungus Cryphonectria parasitica, the American Chestnut blight, that kills the trees.”

Roselli said that more information will be coming in the form of a formal press release in a few weeks.

Bobcat Loop continues back to the trail head and parking, past Vock’s Pond, a pond created by Vock to help power a small saw mill. The mill can be viewed below the dam to the right of the trail, and visitors will also find a sign honoring the Volk family, and especially the man for whom the conservation area gets its name.

“We are cognizant and pay tribute to those who loved this land as we do today,” said Roselli. “Walking these woods…I can hear all the voices of the past asking us to protect this place as they did. That is our mission.”

The full 86-acre Vock property is located on both sides of the dirt road on Jackson Schoolhouse Road, and a portion off Olney Keach Road, and is owned by the non-profit trust.

Join the Burrillville Land Trust for the grand opening event Saturday, June 12, starting at 10 a.m. Guests are advised to bring a small backpack with a water bottle, sturdy shoes and insect repellent. CDC guidelines for COVID-19 and variants will be in effect.

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