It’s warming up outside so get your gear together to hit the trails and hike! The Westerly Land Trust has some great nature trails right here in our neck of the woods, so dust off the backpack, don’t forget water and a snack (Bogue’s Alley in Pawcatuck offers delicious breakfast and lunch sandwiches), and treat your feet to a comfortable pair of hikers as you discover Wahaneeta Preserve, just one of the many Westerly Land Trust preserves.
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Having not hiked this property before and being a tad directionally challenged I had trouble finding the parking lot to Wahaneeta Preserve even though the trail map on The Westerly Land Trust property clearly marked the parking lot located off of Moorehouse Road.
To spare anyone else the embarrassment of asking parents dropping off kids to play ball at the Trombino Sports Complex, which is where the preserve parking lot is, you drive past the ball field and continue up the dirt road bearing slightly left (not right) until you see the Wahaneeta Preserve sign that appears on the left-hand side off the dirt road set back a little bit in the woods. Turn in there and don’t continue to go up the dirt road (like I did!) because who knows where that leads.
About 400 yards past the Westerly Land Trust sign there is a small parking lot that has spaces for maybe six cars. Located a stone’s throw from the parking lot is a small lodge which, according to the online map, has singing trees all around. On the dark cloudy weekend day, I went, all I heard were crickets as the storm clouds tricked them into thinking it was dusk and the soft patter of raindrops that hit the leaves above.
The lodge, pavilion with benches, and renovated cabin are remnants of the former Girl Scouts of Rhode Island Camp Wahaneeta that The Westerly Land Trust purchased in 2012. What’s nice about the trail system is you can start from any direction to follow well-marked trails and discover different historical and diverse natural scenes.
On the way to the pavilion and the open picnic area, there is the Lucky Clover path with white oak trees peeking into the woods. Off in the distance, I could hear the sharp shots of gunfire and remembered reading on the Westerly Land Trust website that during the months of Sept-Jan, there is hunting going on and hikers should wear orange clothing. “Oops!” I thought. “Well, I hope the orange fluorescent marking on my backpack is enough!”
I started my hike on the orange path which turned out to be a nicely maintained trail with small rocks and packed earth that led to the Cruickshank Chimney, a huge stone chimney with scrap metal and rusted pieces laying in front of the chimney – artifacts that tell a story about who once lived here. Turning back around you continue to follow the path over a brook with a couple of small bridges, past a bed of ferns, and sugar maples that dot the trail and there is a clearing not too far up ahead.
At the end of this trail off in the distance is a private residence and farm, but overlooking that is an old family cemetery plot called the Thomas Rathburn ground. There is a small sign on the tree that states in 1867-68, Reverend Fredrick Denison recorded this ground to be of the old Samuel Champlain farm with 30 graves belonging to the Rathburn family.
As I turned around, I saw stone markers sticking up out of the ground with no inscriptions on them spread out along the pasture grass. How wonderful that another family farm of the 21st century now stands where the Rathburn family once resided. In the distance, I could see the American flag waving in the wind and hear the sound of bats connecting with balls coming from the sports complex.
This path ended at the historical cemetery so I turned around to head back out on the orange trail again and in the direction of the girl scout camp. Once back at the open picnic area I turned to the left and started off on the white trail which is just shy of a mile in distance. I came across a small pond with lily pads and a wooden structure planted in the water for what I am guessing is some sort of waterfowl.
To the left of that is a rickety bridge that goes up over the small brook and a weaving, twisted path that goes up and down with old tree roots and rocks embedded in the earth. The path crisscrosses with another one where you can either go left or continue straight, a sign on one of the trees says you have hit the bug bog. Thanks to the cooler temperature, there were no pesky flying things but I can imagine in the height of summer bug spray is a good thing to have out here!
I continued along the part of the trail that had a black marker inside the white circle which went along the perimeter following a stone wall. The elevation was a little higher out here and on the other side of the manmade stone wall is the Woody Hill Management Area. This part of the preserve trail goes for about a mile and a half with red cedar trees along the way and lots of chipmunks running around on top of the stone wall.
After walking another half mile or so, the path leads to two more trails where you can continue walking straight to follow along the stone wall or take a right or left to go in a different direction. If you continue to follow along the perimeter stone wall, it leads out to a shady shelter and connects up with the blue trail which goes in a loop and will take you back out to in front of the lodge and the parking area.
As the dark clouds that loomed overhead threatened to downpour I decided to turn around and head back instead of treading on the blue trail; I will leave that journey to be rediscovered soon.
For information about The Westerly Land Trust, their events, free guided hikes on Thursdays, and all trail maps, please visit their website or call (401) 315-2610.