SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — The Town Council on Monday approved a plan to use almost 250 acres of woodland off Route 138 for hiking and other forms of passive recreation.
The Noyes Farm Open Space Management Plan outlines preferred uses for the site.
They include trails for walking and hiking, photography, birdwatching, snow-shoeing and cross-country skiing. Youth groups could use the land for workshops and educational activities.
ATV and horseback use would be prohibited because of the large number of wet areas and stream crossings.
The town bought the land, one of the largest undeveloped tracts in town, in 2006 using a combination of developer fees for open space and recreation, plus federal and state funding for conservation, Principal Planner Kaela Gray said.
In the 2017-18 fiscal year, the council set aside $20,000 toward the land and hired local consultant Applied Bio-Systems to come up with a preferred use plan. Work began on the plan in March 2018.
“The plan to develop the property has a light touch, is focused on conservation and also gives some passive recreation opportunities in that area of town,” Gray said.
The plan recognizes that the land has historical, educational and recreational value.
“As we were exploring it, we realized there were not only a lot of natural items on the site, but also a lot of cultural resources from the Noyes family, who originally lived on the property,” Applied Bio-Systems president Linda Steere said.
Main entry to the 248-acre site would be off of Route 138. The parcel is buffeted by Kingston Hill Academy to the north and the Compass School to the west.
The Noyes family conducted a timber and lumber operation on the land in the 1800s and 1900s, which descendants confirmed, Steere said.
“We wish we knew a little bit more about this,” she said. “Hearsay is that lumber from this was used to build the Kingston Congregational Church and also to provide railroad ties for the railroad in West Kingston.”
Natural wildlife inhabitants seen on the site include the spotted salamander and rose-breasted grosbeak.
“We’ve also heard wood frogs out there,” Steere said. “It’s probably the largest piece of unfragmented forest in South Kingstown, except for the Great Swamp area.”
About one-third of the site is wetlands. Mitchell Brook and other tributaries feed into the Saugatucket River, and Steere believes the land was the site of a sawmill at one time in the 1800s.
It also contains two state historical cemeteries that are adjacent to each other, the Robert F. Noyes Lot and Caleb Gardiner Lot, according to the state Historical Cemetery Commission’s cemetery database.
The Noyes homestead also was located on the property, but now only foundations remain.
“It would be nice to do some archaeological work there,” Steere said.
Three existing trails would be used with enhancements, and a fourth would be created at the north end, Steere said. A total of about three miles of looping trails would cover the property.
Other work would include bog bridges for wetter parts of the site, plus a parking lot and map kiosk off of the Route 138 entrance.
The town’s capital improvement program would fund the work in four phases, projected to cost $96,000.
First would be repair of the existing main trail off of Route 138 and the parking lot. Other trails and bog bridges would follow in subsequent phases.
Work could be partially funded by grants from the Department of Environmental Management and Natural Resource Conservation Service, Steere said. Volunteers from local groups also are an option that would engage the community in the land’s development, she said.