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    Saturday, April 01, 2023

    At Carr Pond in R.I., there’s such a thing as too many trails

    Umbilicaria lichen covers a rock near Carr Pond in the Big River Management Area in Coventry, R.I. (Steve Fagin)
    Googly-eyes decorate/deface this rock. (Steve Fagin)

    Extensive trails in the Big River Management Area in Coventry, R.I., weave through resplendent groves of white pine, ascend a rocky knoll lined with vestiges of Native American stonework, and provide stunning views around secluded Carr Pond.

    There’s only one problem: The map that depicts this massive network of overlapping, poorly marked footpaths and bicycle trails looks like spaghetti splattered on the floor by an angry infant.

    Undaunted, Maggie Jones, Andy Lynn and I decided to explore the area the other day, and drove to an official Big River trailhead parking lot on Hopkins Hill Road in Coventry, about half an hour east of New London.

    Eleven signs here are posted on a large, wooden kiosk, informing visitors that there is no parking on the street, no discharging firearms in restricted areas, no dumping, no consumption of alcoholic beverages and no use of profanity. Also, dogs must be leashed.

    No simple map, though, and no mention of nearby Carr Pond, rated by some websites as one of the best hikes in Rhode Island.

    “You’d think for such a popular area there’d at least be an arrow pointing the way,” I grumbled.

    We eventually managed to hike to the pond and back, covering more than five miles, though after taking a few wrong turns I may have violated the no-profanity rule. Don’t ask me to describe the route – I soon stopped taking notes and shut off the distance-tracking app on my cellphone.

    That said, most of the trails do lead to the pond sooner or later, so if you have the time and can tolerate occasional missteps, don’t let the lack of a reliable set of directions deter you from a rewarding sojourn.

    We set out on a trail on the right side of the parking lot, and then in about a third of a mile, veered right on a path that took us up a short ridge dominated by giant boulders. Some were covered with umbilicaria lichen, so named because its single attachment point resembles a navel, Maggie explained.

    These lichen are commonly called rock tripe because, like tripe, they are edible. They also look like potato chips, but I can report are far less tasty, having sampled one once.

    Maggie said that rock tripes favor the steep surfaces of granitic rocks that have been undisturbed for years. They are indicators of good air quality because of their sensitivity to atmospheric pollution, she added.

    Smaller stones on this ridge have been arranged into walls resembling a serpent, a traditional Native American practice.

    At one time, archaeologists believed that all stone walls found in the Northeast woods had been built by colonial settlers to mark boundaries, contain animals or clear fields for farming. Now, there’s growing evidence that many were constructed for spiritual reasons by indigenous tribes, long before Europeans arrived in the 17th century.

    From the crest of this knoll, we could finally see Carr Pond, and descended to the west shore. Here, the trail opened up to a wide, gravel road, which we followed for more than a mile, bending around the north end of the pond, and then along the east shore.

    “What a view!” I exclaimed, as we gazed through pine boughs at sparkling blue water.

    The pond is named for Caleb Car III, who bought 282 acres along its shore in 1731, and lived with his family on the property until his death in 1750.

    In the 1960s, the state of Rhode Island purchased the property, along with more than 8,000 additional acres spread out in sections of Coventry, West Greenwich, East Greenwich and Exeter, as part of a controversial plan to dam the Big River. The 2,300-foot long, 70-foot-high structure would have created a 3,400-acre reservoir.

    In 1990, though, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency denied a permit for the dam, saying it would destroy 575 acres of wetlands, 17 miles of free-flowing streams, 10 ponds and 2,500 acres of forest. Three years later, the Rhode Island General Assembly passed legislation designating the Big River Management Area as open space to be used principally for recreation.

    We returned to the parking lot via a route that took us past a small dam at the south end of Carr Pond. Water that tumbled over a spillway formed a short section of the Carr River, which flowed into nearby Tarbox Pond. A cluster of migratory hooded mergansers dived here for fish; any day now, they will fly back north.

    Soon, we, too, would be heading home. It took a few minutes to hike back to the parking lot.

    Miles and miles of other paths are scattered throughout the Big River Management Area. I hope to find my way back again – hopefully, on better-marked trails.

    Information: www.wrb.ri.gov/policy_guidelines_brmalanduse.html

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