Getting Back to Nature in Smithfield’s Seven Scenic Walks

By Paul Lonardo

I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least – and it is commonly more than that – sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements.

— Henry David Thoreau

Over the course of the next seven months, The Smithfield Times is challenging its readers to go on a nature walk and learn the backroads of their town by visiting one or more of the Seven Scenic Walks of Smithfield. As an added incentive, The Smithfield Times will be sponsoring a scavenger hunt of sorts, and each month, beginning this month, we will be featuring an article about one walk site and placing ten specially painted stones in random places throughout that site. By locating one painted stone from each of the seven locations, you will become eligible to win a host of prizes sponsored by various businesses and vendors from around the town of Smithfield. So, if you find a painted stone, pick it up and take it with you. Collect all seven, one from each of the Seven Scenic Walks, and stay tuned to find out what you have won. We only ask that you remove only one painted stone from each site so that others might have an opportunity to collect all seven.

The first featured scenic walk is the Mowry Conservation Area. Like nature itself, you might not notice this one unless you are actually looking for it, but once you find it, you’ll be glad you did. It is located on Old Forge Road, just past the bend off Farnum Pike. There is a sign on the right side of the road featuring a colored map of the area, but there is no parking. A portion of the road widens a bit directly across from the entrance to the Mowry Conservation Area, but be careful because you are on a winding, narrow road.

The moment you pass through the opening in the wooden guardrail on Old Forge Road you immediately step into another world; a shaded, secret place of wonder and beauty. The asphalt and powerlines are replaced by running water and towering pine and hemlock trees. You are initially greeted by a relatively flat area that is perfect for picnicking. The babble of the Woonasquatucket River lures you in further, and there you find a magnificent rock outcropping hanging over the water, as if trying to reach the other side.

You are now inside the Mowry Conservation Area, a 44-acre natural retreat given to the town by the Mowry family (S. Burton and Mary Mowry), who worked a large portion of the land as a farm as far back as 1845. The land was officially dedicated to Smithfield on November 4, 1979. The scenic walk site features an arching footbridge with steel railings and a wooden floor, a clear-water trout stream, and 1.2 miles of trails. There is something for everyone here, whether you come to walk, hike, bird and animal watch, or just enjoy the serenity of the natural environment. For those who enjoy history, you can catch a glimpse of the past left behind in the form of colonial stonework, the remains of a saw mill and forge that stood on the grounds in the 1700s.

The walking trails begin just as you cross the footbridge spanning the river. As you proceed, you will begin to notice that the trees are periodically marked with fist-sized red painted circles. These are your guides through the conservation area, like breadcrumbs to be followed to get the most out of your adventure. You will shortly come upon a yellow arrow directing you to the right, and trees in the direction marked with yellow circles. Choosing this path will take you north on a more challenging hike, up through the hills and over rocky terrain that will require a bit more effort to traverse. Sticking to the red-marked trail, you will make a half-mile circular loop around a large stand of pine trees that dominate the conservation area. The yellow trail is about three-quarters of a mile in length and will take you upstream along the river before climbing upland and then back south where you will rejoin the red trail a little further along from where you diverged earlier.

You have to be careful of your footing, as tree roots are coiled above the ground like petrified snakes. This time of year, you have to be extra cautious because they are very slippery when damp or wet. Fallen trees may also present an obstacle in some places.

All in all, this is a very enjoyable and relaxing jaunt through nature. It’s small enough where you can spend an entire morning or afternoon and experience all that the Mowry Conservation Area has to offer, but big enough that at most points along the walk all you see are trees in every direction, giving you the feeling that you are in the middle of some great medieval forest. However, if you listen carefully you will be able to pick up the sound of a passing truck on Farnum Pike or a car wending along Old Forge Road.

Most age groups, young and old, should be able to make it through both trails without a problem. It not particularly challenging, but it is hilly, and it will get your heart rate up. Best of all, it will give you a chance to unplug for a little while. Keep social media out of the woods and your cell phones in your pocket on mute and just enjoy the sights and sounds that are practically in your own backyard. It’s a quiet, seemingly out of the way spot, but don’t be surprised if you come across some wildlife on your trek through the Mowry Conservation Area. Foraging deer, attracted by the running water, are common, as are furry woodland creatures such as chipmunks and squirrels. Muskrats love the conservation area and an otter or two has been spotted in the water. Bird watchers will have plenty to see but must be mindful of the rocks and roots underfoot.

So, find an hour or two one day this month and visit the Mowry Conservation Area. If you spot a painted stone pick it up and hang onto it. We’ll tell you about another local scenic walk next month. Enjoy and good luck.

It must be noted that the Seven Scenic Walks in Smithfield, as represented on the town of Smithfield website, under the Smithfield Conservation Commission, was written by the late Ken Weber, a nature writer and journalist for many years with the Providence Journal.

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