NORTH SMITHFIELD – The North Smithfield Parks & Recreation Department will launch a series of guided weekly hikes next month featuring three local conservation areas that showcase northern Rhode Island’s scenic vistas, abundant wildlife and spaces to enjoy fresh air, exercise and a taste of the great outdoors.
Family-friendly hikes will begin on Saturday, Feb. 4, and are expected to run throughout the year along well-defined and marked trails the weave through the town’s woodlands and its borders.
According to volunteer guide Richard Keene, the trails are all between two to three-miles-long, and are expected to take from one and a half, to two hours to complete. Hikers will travel at a leisurely pace, stopping occasionally at scenic overlooks during tours on the first, third and fourth Saturday morning of each month.
Keene, who is president of the North Smithfield Heritage Association, has launched the guided hiking series through a collaboration with the town’s Recreation Program Coordinator Kate Pasquariello. He said the effort to offer residents with weekly recreation opportunities through Parks and Recreation began with a personal desire to get out and enjoy the trails with other nature enthusiasts.
“Frankly, I need to get away from the computer and lose some weight,” Keene told NRI NOW this week. “I enjoy long walks in the woods and the company of other people makes it even more enjoyable.”
Launching in the colder months, Keene noted that the hikes will cancel in the event of heavy rain or steady snowfall. Hikers are advised to wear long shirts, pants and hiking shoes, use insect repellent and bring a bottle of water. If trails are covered in snow or ice, slip-on ice grips or snow shoes are recommended.
The weekly nature explorations begin at 9:30 a.m. on February 4, at an area dubbed Wunnashowatuckqut, or “where the river splits,” by the Nipmuc who first settled the area. Hikers will park on Martha Road, just south of the Blackstone Gorge, and explore state-owned properties along abandoned dirt roads and trails surrounding an area where the Blackstone River and Branch River meet. The trail will follow Old Harkness Road and lead to High Rocks Gorge, giving hikers a chance to observe birds and beaver activity, as well as a unique view of the rolling dam at the Blackstone Gorge in neighboring Massachusetts.
On Saturday, Feb. 18, the hike moves to Booth Pond and the old Souza farm, exploring an 132-acre protected area located behind Dowling Village on the North Smithfield/Woonsocket line. Owned, in part, by the North Smithfield Land Trust and the town of North Smithfield, this property features a 2.4 mile loop first opened to visitors in 2021. Hikers will meet at Aldi’s parking lot at Dowling Village, exploring an area of protected woodlands through Pine Hill that is home to beavers, birds and 52 species of endangered dragonfly and damselfly.
The following week, on Saturday, Feb. 25, Keene will lead hikers on a trail through the Audubon Fort Wildlife Refuge, a 235-acre property the includes miles of paths leading to three idyllic ponds. The refuge is considered a destination for bird watching, with species of owl and warblers, as well as other wildlife observation and photography, with a diverse habitat teeming with beaver, otter, muskrat, fox, deer, frog and turtle in residence. Featuring scenic views, the property is also a popular winter destination for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
Hikers will meet at 9:30 a.m. as with all hiking events, with refuge explorers to gather at the property at 1445 Providence Pike.
The schedule will repeat throughout 2023 on the first, third, and fourth Saturday of each month. Keene plans to lead most weeks, with volunteer Bob Mowry to fill in when he’s unavailable.
“We’ll give it a year, see whether it catches on, and go from there,” Keene said.