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    Thursday, August 11, 2022

    Savoring the serenity of simplicity on a Wickaboxet trail

    Trails can lead to towering peaks, scenic shorelines, waterfalls, caves, hidden ravines and other striking natural features — but sometimes they are just wonderful places to walk while savoring the serenity of simplicity.

    The six-plus-mile loop trail at Wickaboxet Management Area in West Greenwich, R.I., is just such a footpath, following abandoned farm roads that weave through a verdant corridor of pine, oak, hickory, beech, birch and mountain laurel, along with fern meadows and broad expanses of wild blueberry and huckleberry bushes.

    “The berries are just beginning to ripen,” Maggie Jones announced, as she veered off the path to sample the tasty, tart fruit. Phil Plouffe, Mary Sommer and I quickly joined the feast — well, not exactly a feast; this early in the season, it requires considerable determination to pick more than a handful. Still, even one or two berries satisfy the palate on a warm day.

    Evidently, we weren’t the only creatures feeding in the forest. Maggie examined feathers scattered along one section of trail.

    “Looks like someone had a meal here,” she said, theorizing that a cooper’s hawk likely had killed and eaten a woodpecker. A short time later, I noticed clumps of fur — possibly from a rabbit or deer that had been hunted by a coyote. I guess that even though our group enjoyed tranquility, enhanced by the hauntingly melodic call of a hermit thrush, the forest isn’t always peaceful.

    The state acquired the 678-acre former farm in 1932, and over the years has planted thousands of pines to replace trees destroyed by forest fires. Today, these evergreens contribute to the restfulness at Wickaboxet, one of Rhode Island’s 25 state management areas that collectively protect 55,000 acres.

    We also passed several large piles of what appeared to be thatch cut by a mower.

    “What are those?” Phil asked.

    “Allegheny ant mounds,” Maggie replied, explaining that the insects create these bare patches by injecting formic acid into surrounding vegetation. Some birds wallow ecstatically in the mounds while ants eat mites that torment them. Tough call: Would you rather be pestered by mites, or covered with mite-eating ants?

    After more than five miles of trotting over smooth, flat, sand-packed trails, we began to climb toward a massive outcropping. This was Rattlesnake Ledge, Wickaboxet’s high point. A panoramic view from the summit spread out over an enormous expanse of forest, with no roads, houses or other structures in sight.

    Had I not known we were gazing at a forest in Rhode Island, I might have guessed we were visiting Vermont, New Hampshire or Maine. It’s nice to experience this level of satisfaction without having to spend hours driving north.

    The loop trail is not blazed but easy to follow, with an access off Plain Meeting House Road. Hikers may also avoid the long woods walk and head directly up Rattlesnake Ledge, cutting the distance to about 2.5 miles — but why skip the best part?

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