PROVIDENCE — This past Friday, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM), in conjunction with the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) and the Rhode Island Trails Advisory Committee, announced that it is awarding $1.52 million worth in funding for recreational trail projects throughout the state. In South County, five initiatives have received money, including the refurbishment of 3.5 miles of trails in North Kingstown and creation of a new trail on the Whale Rock Preserve in Narragansett.
The trail grants utilize federal monies provided through the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century and can be used to create new trails, as well as restore and improve existing trail systems.
In North Kingstown, approximately 400 acres of undeveloped state property adjacent to Post Road will have a new trailhead established and its existing trail system improved through a $70,000 award. In Exeter, the Appalachian Mountain Club has secured $100,000 to build a bridge over the Wood River so that hikers can avoid crossing over Route 165 to continue along the Mount Tom Trail.
At last Friday’s event, both Governor Lincoln Chafee and RIDEM Director Janet Coit praised the grant awards and their recipients for their work towards making the state’s open spaces more welcoming and usable.
“We are pleased to present these federal grants that will enhance and improve hiking paths and walking trails in communities across the state,” said Chafee. “Rhode Island’s numerous recreational trails are heavily used by the public and perfect places to take a walk or just enjoy nature in a peaceful, relaxing setting.”
“We’ve been working with municipalities and non-profit organizations to provide new and expanded opportunities for Rhode Islanders to explore the beauty of our state’s natural areas and woodlands,” said Coit. “Kudos to our partners for the great work they’re doing to enhance and upgrade existing nature trails and hiking paths and create new opportunities for public trail access site throughout Rhode Island.”
Michael P. Lewis, Director of RIDOT, was also on hand to discuss the awards.
“Since transportation takes on many forms, we are grateful to partner with the Governor’s Office and our sister agency, RIDEM, in presenting these valuable grants to help improve our ever-growing system of recreational trails, while providing unique transportation alternatives for Rhode Islanders,” said Lewis.
Among smaller projects throughout the state, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has received $8,340 to create a trail on the Whale Rock Preserve off Boston Neck Road, a 111-acre property which the environmental firm acquired in April 2011.
“[The funding] will be for trail cutting and placing bog bridges along the trail, for which most of the costs are lumber and supplies,” said Cheryl Wiitala, spokesperson for TNC. “We have an upcoming work day in mid May with a group of volunteers to do some cutting, although we are still trying to get our paperwork filed with DEM.”
Wiitala further noted that plans to extend the trail towards the shoreline have been delayed because it abuts land which the Rhode Island National Guard owns there.
“We are working with them now to see where the property lines line up, so we don’t think we will have a full trail to the shore just yet,” said Wiitala.
TNC will manage the acquired land in order to sustain the wildlife habitat and protect the water quality of the Narrow River estuary, upon which the properties abut. Because the town and state funding has assisted in the property’s acquisition, however, Narragansett requested that public access to the trail system be supplied.
Wiitala stated that the $8,340 should be enough to complete the first phase of the project.
Among other initiatives, Hopkinton will receive $95,000 to build a bridge over the Tomaquag Brook and subsequently connect trails from Hopkinton to those in Westerly’s Grills Preserve.
“We have been talking about it for a number of years,” said Marilyn Grant of the Hopkinton Land Trust. “Any day now there is a bridge going across the Wood River into the Grills Wildlife Preserve, which is 500 plus acres, and the Hopkinton portion is 432 acres.”
“We applied jointly three years ago and once that bridge was in place, we felt the need to bridge the Tomaqaug, she added.
The $95,000 represents 80 percent of the overall cost of the bridge project, the other 20 percent for which the land trust will match.
“We will probably do some bidding and may have engineering costs,” said Grant of the funding. “Some of it will go into making sure the trails leading up to [the bridge] are in good shape.”
“It is really exciting for us,” she continued. “We have been working for several years on keeping the trails open over there on the Grills Wildlife Preserve.”