SOUTH KINGSTOWN – The town council unanimously supported a resolution endorsing the Noyes Farm Open Space Management Plan on Monday night, which would offer more recreational opportunities and greater environmental protections.
Town Manager Robert Zarnetske stressed that everything is still very conceptual at this point and the town has not come to an agreement for funding anything at this time.
The plan, which was developed by president and principal wetland biologist Linda Steere of Applied Bio-Systems Inc., would help protect 248 acres of forest area and open it up to a number of new trails. The new trails would be blazed in phases, according to Steere.
“We’ve been trying to evolve a plan that would include some cultural resources, perhaps provide some areas that youth groups could use for educational purposes and also to provide some more hiking trails in South Kingstown,” she said.
The area, which was purchased by the town in 2006, features two historical cemeteries, stone walls, building foundations and remnants of what are believed to have been mills along Mitchell Brook. The family that once lived in the area near the University of Rhode Island Kingston Campus owned and operated a wood harvesting farm in the 1800s and 1900s. Kingston Congregational Church is believed to have been built with lumber from the farm.
Natural features are also abundant in this area, according to Steere, including a number of bird species and plants, amphibians and fauna.
“It’s probably the largest area of unfragmented forest in the town of South Kingstown, maybe other than the Great Swamp area,” Steere said. “Mitchell Brook has also attributed a lot to the town’s history. It’s a tributary to the Saugatucket, and there are a number of smaller tributaries on the property that feed into Mitchell Brook.”
“We believe it’s the site of a sawmill, if not some other mills in the 1800s,” she added.
The ecosystems that exist out there are sensitive and have been open to human destruction and damage over the years. Steere said she’d be happy to see more people take advantage of the trails that are there, or that the open management plan hopes to put in, most of what exists there already is due to all-terrain vehicles (ATV).
In the future, the trails would be closed to ATVs and horseback riding, Steere said. The new, additional trails, as well as the development of a parking lot along Rt. 138, would provide about three miles of hiking trails and space for passive recreational hobbies, like photography and bird watching.
The open space management plan, if formally adopted and implemented, would be completed in phases. One of the later phases would hope to include wetland crossing footbridges, so people could continue to hike in some of the wetter months of the year.
The budget for implementing these improvements to the space would run roughly $96,000, according to Steere, despite the phase design of the plan.
“However, there are grants that can be applied for,” she said. The Department of Environmental Management (DEM) “has trail and recreational grants, and the Natural Resource and Conservation Service also has grants that might be able to help with some of the activities there.”
“Also, I think South Kingstown has a great volunteer force,” Steere added. “Between Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and some school groups, I think a lot of the items that involve bridges, maybe some of the signage and tree identification could all be done by some of these volunteer groups.”
The next step, according to Steere, should be getting a permit for the parking lot. It’s also the largest part of the budget. Blazing trails would be relatively inexpensive in comparison. After the competition of the parking lot and the trail meant to leave from there, Steere said the rest of the phases could be completed at a later date so the public could gain access as soon as possible.
The time table will all depend on town council resolving to move forward with the plan, Steere said. A number of permits and applications will need to be submitted and processed before work can get underway.
In other business that evening, the town council also heard from South County Health’s new president and CEO, Aaron Robinson, during their work session.
Robinson has held a number of top administrative positions at hospitals throughout the country but said he’s excited to be here in South Kingstown and experiencing the “unique culture” the community has to offer.
“It’s really top to bottom, a uniquely collaborative, collegial culture of highly invested professionals on a mission to take care of the community,” Robinson said. “The sense of the community is strong.”
He personally thanked the council for the support and partnership they’ve shown the hospital over the years, long before their arrival, and expressed hope for its continuation.
“We will require more ongoing support because the challenges aren’t getting any easier,” he said.