By Paul Lonardo
I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees
-Henry David Thoreau
This is one trail where you will truly feel taller than the trees. The climax of this scenic walk is the panoramic view you get treated to at its peak, a height of about 450 feet above sea level. Providence’s skyline is visible in the distance, looking rather diminutive across the near seven-mile distance. On the clearest of days, your vision may extend further down Narragansett Bay as far as the Mount Hope Bridge. With the unaided eye, some sightseers have spotted the Brayton Point Power Station cooling towers in Somerset, MA, and the windmill in Portsmouth.
Reaching this location is a little tricky. This scenic walk is not particularly lengthy, nor very challenging to hike, and the trees and rocks along the route are marked in blue paint. However, there are some converging and offshoot trails that are not clearly marked, so you just have to pay close attention to the blue markings to be sure you get to Mercer Lookout without getting sidetracked. Unlike many of the other scenic walks that post maps featuring an overview of the area and included the locations of the various paths in relation to one another, this site does not.
It can be a bit of a challenge just finding your starting point. As you drive along Mountaindale Road, about a mile off Pleasant View Avenue in Greenville, there is no sign posted announcing your approach to Mercer Lookout. You’ll have to know where you are going beforehand. However, there are visual aids that you cannot miss. First is the hulking and rusted steel powerlines towering overhead. You will also see the gated and barred driveway of a Narragansett Electric power substation, adjacent to which you will see a narrow road, Wolf Hill Trail, which at one time, before I-295 was built, connected this area with Esmond. The lower portion of the road is paved with loose stone, and you may travel several hundred feet, under the powerlines, before parking and getting out on foot. Any divergent paths you encounter as you start your journey, just be sure to keep to the right, sticking to the path that travels toward the treeline. Once under the canopy of the trees, you will travel less than a half mile, wending your way toward Mercer Lookout. As you follow the blue markings on the rocks and trees, you will also see an occasional blue arrow guiding you in the direction you need to go when the path is bisected by another path or where there is a divergence. The woods get a bit thick, but you can hear the muffled roar of the highway as traffic on I-295 barrels south toward the Route 44 exits and beyond.
You know you have reached Mercer Lookout when you spot the ruined remains of a stone chimney and fireplace, which had once been part of a cabin used by a local Boy Scout troop. The cabin was destroyed by fire sometime in the early 1950s, and only the fireplace survived. Though the structure continues to crumble, it still stands about fifteen feet tall. For several decades after the Boy Scouts no longer visited the site, the property was largely forgotten and the natural growth of the trees all around Mercer Lookout slowly veiled this grand vista from all human eyes, seemingly forever.
In 1997, this 24-acre property was donated to the town, acquired through a bequest by the Hester Hastings of Lynchburg, VA, who named the land in commemoration of her family members, Joseph Mercer and Joseph Mercer Hastings. Soon after, the Smithfield Conservation Commission was in charge of maintaining the site, and they clear cut a stand of trees that were growing in front of Mercer Lookout, reopening the magnificent view for all of us.
Mercer Lookout is located within a much larger area encompassing some 400 acres of property, known as Wolf Hill Forest Preserve, which contains a large number of walking and hiking trails, which you may run into if you get off course. However, you can easily get back onto Wolf Hill Trail by following the main power lines, which will get you back down toward Mountaindale Road. Just remember, you will need to follow the blue trail all the way up to Mercer Lookout to find your final painted rock in our Seven Scenic Walks in Smithfield challenge.
If you were able to find one painted rock in each of the seven walking trails that we have been highlighting this year, one each month since May and two this October issue, it is time to enter to win your prize. All you have to do is take a photo of your painted rock collection (one group photo of the front and then flip them over and take one of the back) and then email them to us at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Type “rocks” in the Subject Line and be sure to include your name and phone number. If you are an adult or submitting on behalf of a child please include their name and age with the submission. We would love to hear about your experience on the trails so feel free to include that as well. We must receive the rock photos no later than October 20. The winner(s) will be announced next month, in the November issue. To be eligible to win, each of your seven rocks must be from different walking trails, one from each location. Please send us pics of your collection, even if you only have a few, we may share them online or in the magazine.
Thank you all for participating and good luck. We hope you had fun exploring your town and discovering some of the hidden beauty and secrets in nature.