By Patti Shaffer
Forget that cup of coffee. Instead, to get an energy or brainpower boost, enjoy a small dose of wilderness by taking a hike or even a stroll among nature on one of Smithfield’s many walking trails. Researchers say that getting outside and hitting a trail in a natural environment also has a positive impact on our health and well being.
“Walking among nature definitely has a health benefit for everyone whether old, young, fit, unfit, experienced or brand-new to the trails. The secret is to make your own rules about pace, length and time. One can focus on sounds, colors, birds, rocks, and bushes. However you choose, and if you choose,” said Sandra Mayer, a long time board member and volunteer on the Smithfield Conservation Commission.
“The physical and also the mental benefits of traveling the trails are many because the body and the brain are so intently focused on the moves, sights, sounds, and smells, often without even trying—all of the body is working.”
Yes, evidence shows that walking along a wooded nature trail offers many possibilities for enhancing our daily life. Being among trees, sunshine, fresh air and lack of technology can help us clear our head and help us to destress, because while we walk we are focusing on our surroundings and not thinking about ourselves. It can also help increase our quality of sleep by helping us to relax, as well as keep us physically fit and help control our weight. In addition, it’s a great activity to do with your children and helps them appreciate nature.
As John Muir, America’s most famous and influential naturalist, author and conservationist once said, “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”
Seven Scenic Walks in Smithfield
Mowry Conservation Area on Old Forge Road is an increasingly popular spot for a one-mile walk in this shady 44-acre retreat with marked walking trails that begin just beyond an arching footbridge. Although there is ‘no off season’ at Mowry, in spring and summer the area is filled with wildlife, wildflowers and an old dam that creates a small but beautiful waterfall. The area also offers a stocked trout stream, a picturesque place for picnics and lots of stonewalls. Hemlocks and pines surround the lower area where an orange-blazed trail makes a short loop. A longer yellow blazed path, runs up a steep ridge and back through pine trees and hardwoods of many varieties. It’s an ‘easy’ trail with some elevation.
Ken Weber Conservation Area at Cascade Brook, known as “Nature’s best friend in Smithfield,” features a one-mile scenic blue blazed walking trail that loops through an open, rocky forest. This 27-acre property has been dedicated to the late Ken Weber, who wrote a well read nature column in The Providence Journal.
Ken and his wife Bettie, laid out the trail and named it for its gurgling brook that cascades down a ledge in all but the driest seasons. Enter off Putnam Pike at the sign for Village at Waterman Lake at the western edge of Greenville across from West Greenville Road. Parking is at the end of the paved roadway. The walking path is about one mile long and climbs up and down small hills but is fairly ‘easy’.
Esmond Park on the corner of Farnum Pike and Esmond Street is a combination of a short trail on a former railroad bed and a small town park that are separated by an arch bridge that crosses the river at a small waterfall. The park also features picnic tables, park benches, a river, cattail marsh, World War I monuments and a short walking path that provides for a quiet walk and relaxing conversation. This trail is considered ‘easy’.
Stillwater Scenic Trail on Capron Road has a walking path that runs along an old railway bed. The path features an open flat lane with river and pond views on one side and forest views, rocky slopes and open fields on the other along with fishing spots, water birds, turtles, frogs, and butterflies. Depending on the season, you may also see wildflowers and songbirds. The length of the walkway to Capron Road Bridge and back is about 2 ¼ miles and is considered an ‘easy’ walk. There is parking in a gravel lot off Farnum Pike between Washington Highway and Stump Pond Dam.
Georgiaville Town Beach, Dam and Gorge can be reached at the end of Stillwater Road. In addition to swimming, fishing and boating activities, the park offers a short, quiet, woodland walk along a high earthen dam that ends at a spillway and a scenic gorge. Its open lane is ideal for strolling. The walk from the beach along the gorge and stream is 0.8 miles and is ‘easy’.
Connors Farm Conservation Area, on 20-24 Connors Farm Road, is considered to some as one of the best-kept secrets for a hike in Rhode Island. It is hidden in the forest on a 66-acre property that features walking trails, a pond, brook, dams, an old stone bridge, beech groves, a wild cranberry bog, and rugged glacial ledges. (Don’t get too close to the edge). There are three trails, a red, blue and a yellow trail. The blue trail splits and to the left is the Lower Trail and to the right is the Cave Trail. This inviting trail is approximately 1.6 miles long with spectacular views and well-marked paths. The trails are considered ‘moderate’ with significant elevation in some areas.
Wolf Hill Forest Preserve/Mercer Lookout can be accessed from the green blazed trailhead on Waterview Drive that ascends and winds up a hill and is quite rocky with some slightly steep paths in some areas that can be challenging. However, this popular hiking spot offers eight well-marked trails from 2 to 6 miles long, a couple of overlooks, and a World War II Memorial. Approximate distance is 4 miles. Mercer Lookout, which can be reached by the blue blazed trail, features quiet woodland trails, blueberry bushes and a panoramic view of the Providence Skyline. This route is also rocky in places but it’s worth the effort to see songbirds and wildflowers, particularly where it follows ancient Wolf Hill Trail. The trails are moderate to difficult due to elevation.
For more information on Seven Scenic Walks in Smithfield, go to smithfieldri.com/seven-scenic-walks
Other great places for nature walks in Smithfield are:
Olivia’s Forest on Ridge Road (wedged between two neighborhoods) is 0.8 miles long and is a great place for a nature walk. (Mostly a one-person footpath but wider in some areas). The 31-acre site is a mature forest that includes three short trails that cross a small stream flowing through the property. Three rudimentary wooden footbridges cross the stream. The green trail starts at a very small parking area along Ridge Road. The green dot and orange dot trails follow old farmer’s cart paths and the white dot trail weaves through a rocky-forested slope. Two historical cemeteries dating back to the 1800’s are also on the property. The trail is considered somewhat more strenuous with some elevation, but well marked.
Deerfield Park at Lisa Ann Circle has a little of everything. It’s used for its athletic fields, its playground and it’s also where the Senior Center is located. The town’s Veterans Memorial and the Smithfield Youth Memorial Garden are also located in the park. It offers a 1.6-mile walking path from the road and into the woods (between Deerfield Park and the High School) and is considered ‘easy’.
Powder Mill Ledges Wildlife Refuge, on 12 Sanderson Road, is a 120 acre property with deep woodlands and interesting rock outcroppings and the home to the Rhode Island Audubon Society’s headquarters. The Wildlife Refuge hiking trails, good for all skill levels and family friendly, have well-marked trails and great for observing wildlife. A great place for bird watching too. The trails are considered ‘easy’ with slight elevation and some rocky footing in areas. To walk the complete trail round trip takes about 1 ½ hour.
The Smithfield Audubon Society maintains nearly 9,500 acres of natural habitat across Rhode Island and nearby Massachusetts. Many of their trails are open to the public and have groomed trails for hiking and nature study. The trails are open from dawn to dusk all year round, unless posted differently. For more information on their hiking trails, go to www.asri.org/refuges/wildlife-refuges.htmls