Celebrate Earth Day with a walk in Sowams Woods

Land trust hosting nature walk on Sunday

Posted

Humans are not the only Barrington residents who are happy to see the winter months behind us. Finally, spring has sprung, and with it come the critters who thrive in the vernal pools in Sowams Woods.

Marking the 10th anniversary of the Barrington Land Conservation Trust’s acquisition of Sowams Woods, the public is invited to join Helen Tjader on a Walk in the Woods on Sunday, April 23. Co-sponsored by the Barrington Recreation Department, the walk promises to be a fun, leisurely hike through the trails in search of the creatures who inhabit the vernal pools.

What is a vernal pool? Vernal pools are shallow depressions in the landscape that sit between the trees in wooded areas. Important to the natural ecosystem in Sowams Woods, the pools are responsible for providing hatching grounds for peepers, salamanders, turtles, and other amphibians.

Vernal pools are unique in that they often dry up during the summer. Without the water, the pools cannot host the fish that would normally eat eggs and other small life forms. Depending on the weather patterns from year to year, the pools can fill back up by the spring with rains and winter run-offs. When the vernal pools are dry, you may think you’ve simply come upon a gentle hollow. But by April, they become a lively theatre of nature’s coming attractions.

Great horned owls and red tailed hawks often fly in to perch on the extended branches of large trees that overhang these pools. Owls may rest as they digest their prey, usually mice, voles and the like from a nearby meadow. It is likely you may come across an owl pellet or two (think undigested bones and fur!) on the hike.  

Black crows, who are natural enemies of the great horned owls, tend to squawk at nesting owls. Their cacophony is often an alert to hikers that can help them spot a well-disguised owl’s nest high up in a decaying tree.

Vernal pools are protected under the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management’s Fresh Water Wetlands Act. In compliance with the rules and regulation of “special aquatic sites,” a 50-foot circumference is required around each pool. However, approximately 1,000 feet of natural forest with its leaf litter and fallen logs is necessary to protect the animals once they leave the pools.

Sowams Woods has two distinct vernal pools: The deeper pool, which fills up first in the spring, is located on the southwest corner of the property. The more shallow pool is near the ridge where the woods abut Echo Lake.  Both pools and the surrounding land are fully protected by the Trust.

Ms. Tjader will also be discussing the Barrington Land Conservation Trust’s work over the past 10 years to improve the habitat and provide public trails. Although the hike is a chance to see the vernal pools in action, there are plenty of marked trails to enjoy wildflowers, ferns and other parts of Sowams Woods.

Sowams Woods walk

• When: April 23, from 3 to 4 p.m.

• Where: Sowams Woods is located along Washington Road between South Lake Drive and Tallwood Drive. The walk will begin at the Sowams Woods sign on Washington Road

• Parking: Parking is permitted on Tallwood, Spinnaker Drive and Lighthouse Lane (there is no parking on South Lake Drive, which is one-way). Bikes may be chained to the fence posts on South Lake Drive.  

• Dress: Dress for the weather and wear comfortable shoes. Insect repellent is recommended.

• Dogs: They are welcome to attend as long as they stay on leash.

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A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.