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By Paul Lonardo
“For in the true nature of things, if we rightly consider, every green tree is far more glorious than if it were made of gold and silver.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Across from Stillwater Reservoir off Farnum Pike near the intersection of Route 116 is the entrance to Stillwater Scenic Trail, where there is a small parking area that can accommodate a half dozen or so cars. This nature trail begins in a less than pastoral way, but the sight you behold is a unique one just the same. As you begin to follow the wide, flat walking path that runs along an old railway bed, you soon round a bend and encounter a series of immense concrete pillars that support Route 116. The underpass is sizeable and the support structures are abloom with colorful and creative graffiti art and poetry that you can take a little extra time to explore if you have an interest, or you can continue along the walkway which follows the banks of the Woonasquatucket River as it flows from Stump Pond into Stillwater Pond.
You quickly leave behind the traffic noise echoing down from the raised bridge of George Washington Highway and you pace along a quiet, sun-dappled trail that is shaded enough to keep the heat of a mid-summer afternoon from scorching you, while at the same time allowing just enough of the sun through the high canopy to provide you with plenty of warmth and comfort. To your right is an expanse of dense forest where you are likely to observe butterflies flitting on warm breezes, hear the melodies of songbirds in the trees and the rustling of squirrels as they rummage through the underbrush. Do not be surprised by the sighting of a beaver or two near the water’s edge on your left, where you will find numerous locations that provide unimpeded access to the bank of the river, in which a variety of small fish are visible in the clear water.
As you get about half way through this mile-long scenic walk, civilization intrudes once more when the canopy gives way to an open cut area and an overhead a series of power lines that cross the Woonasquatucket to supply a tract of homes on the other side of the river with electricity. You can literally hear the sizzle of the current passing through the lines, but it immediately fades as you move onward, bound by water on one side and forest on the other.
Just a little further along, the narrow river begins to widen to form a larger body of water that is Stillwater Pond. You will soon hear and witness a small, steady-flowing waterfall that is part of the dam that created the pond. At this junction you are afforded an opportunity to sit and take in the beauty of this waterway on one of two wooden benches just off the path beside the gentle cascade of falling water. Here you will also find a small wooden box, painted green with flowers and inscribed with the words, “Apple Blossom Garden Club.” Inside the box are scraps of papers and small notepads, which you may look through, reading the thoughts and ramblings of others who have traveled the Stillwater Scenic Trail before you. Using one of several pens provided, you are also welcome to memorialize your own experiences in print for future hikers and nature lovers to discover.
The trail extends for another quarter mile before it comes to an end at Capron Road. Just before it concludes, however, there is another smaller dam where tributary waters from Stillwater Pond flows and empties into Capron Pond.
One of the takeaways you get from walking through Stillwater Scenic Trail is that the signs of civilization are never far behind, from the proximity of Interstate 295 to the air traffic buzzing overhead around nearby North Central Airport. However, this should only serve to make the natural beauty found there all the more precious. The trail is reminiscent of the opening of the old Andy Griffith Show, when over the introductory credits Andy and his young son Opie, played by six-year old Ron Howard, are walking together along the banks of a lake carrying fishing poles. This scene perfectly captures the idyllic essence of nature as it is being enjoyed, in this case, by a father and son. Stillwater Scenic Trail might appear to be a throwback to another era, but it is there for all residents and visitors of Smithfield to enjoy in all seasons.
The round-trip walk covers a little more than 2 miles, and at a brisk pace you can make it back to your car in a half hour, or taking a more leisurely pace you can spend several hours experiencing all that nature has to offer here, including fishing and bird-watching. As you double back, be sure to check for specially painted rocks, if you haven’t found one by this point. And be sure to read about Connors Farm Conservation Area, the fifth in the series of reviews of the Seven Scenic Walks of Smithfield in next month’s issue of The Smithfield Times.