Losing battle at Cedar Swamp

Losing battle at Cedar Swamp

North Smithfield Conservation Commission Chairman Paul Soares stands near a makeshift bridge, an attempt by commission members to secure access across a flooded section of Cedar Swamp. Most of the 69.5-acre town property, acquired in 2010, remains inaccessible to the public because of regular flooding of access trails due to beaver dams. (Breeze photo by Lauren Clem)
Conservation Commission wants area accessible to the public; resident beavers seem determined to keep them out

NORTH SMITHFIELD – Paul Soares is on a mission. He has a bone to pick with local wildlife, but it’s not squirrels eating from the birdfeeder or mice in the attic he’s worried about. Instead, the resident and chairman of the North Smithfield Conservation Commission is determined to do something about the beavers that moved into a section of public land near Rte. 146 a few years ago and quietly staked their claim, keeping it all but inaccessible to the humans who live nearby.

Once each week, Soares climbs into his red Toyota 4Runner and heads to Cedar Swamp, a 69.5-acre town property donated from the estate of Philip Silva in 2010. The property includes about 30 acres of swampland and another 40 acres of forested highlands and stretches from Rte. 146 to the power substation, ending just shy of Greenville Road at its eastern edge.

Once used as a hunting preserve, the property is home to dragonflies, deer and wood ducks and offers an oasis of wildlife just beyond the border with Woonsocket. It’s an area Soares and other members of the Conservation Commission hope to make accessible to members of the public for hiking and other activities, but a number of challenges stand in their way.

“We’re trying to get this to the point where the public can have some decent access. It’s been a long struggle, and so far the beavers are winning,” said Soares.

The first challenge is getting there. The property has two access points, a public easement through private land on Greenville Road and a gate used by National Grid directly off the exit ramp from 146 south. Neither point has convenient parking, and both points eventually end in small ponds of water backed up from the beaver dams that line the swamp. One puddle stretching across the road beneath the power lines ranges in depth from about four inches to a few feet and effectively blocks access to the rest of the property to everything except all-terrain vehicles and perhaps a person in a very tall pair of waders.

“When the flooding is at its worst, this is all underwater,” Soares explained. “People can’t walk through here, and there’s 40-some acres of beautiful highlands you can’t get to.”

When The Valley Breeze first checked in on the property in 2016, Soares was supervising the installation of one of two “beaver deceivers,” water diversion systems costing about $1,200 apiece. Since then, the beavers have built another dam downstream, raising water levels beyond the systems’ ability to lower them. Conservation Commission members have tried other methods to control the flooding over the years, breaking up dams and building a bridge of logs that was washed away in the rising waters, but the beavers continue to rebuild.

“If I had an unlimited amount of money, we could build a boardwalk all the way from Greenville Road to the high country, but we’re talking 600 or 700 feet,” said Soares. “I can’t imagine the cost of that. We’re talking tens of thousands of dollars to build a boardwalk across the swamp.”

A few months ago, he requested an increase of $460 in the Commission’s annual town budget to bring in rock and gravel to raise the level of the access road. He’s hoping a higher road will solve some of the issues, but there’s no guarantee the beavers won’t build another dam and raise the level of the water again.

“Beavers are very invested little rodents and they just continue to cut things down and build dams and there’s really nothing you can do to stop them,” he said.

There is one solution the Conservation Commission hasn’t tried yet. State law allows the trapping of nuisance beavers with a permit, provided they are not moved to another location where they could cause problems for someone else. Instead, the beavers must be killed, a measure Soares said the Conservation Commission is trying to avoid.

“We have that option, but we’re trying not to go that route. If we get this road repaired, we’re hoping that that solves the problem,” he said.

For now, he and other members access the back section of the property by unlocking a gated area normally closed to vehicles and driving straight through the half-foot puddle to where an old logging road climbs out of the swamp on the other side. After passing a marker where Soares buried his Jack Russell terrier, Lucy, when she died in 2016, the road winds off into the woods, looping through 40 acres of heavy forest. It’s land that’s rarely seen except by members of the Conservation Commission who maintain the road and the occasional ATV rider trespassing on town property.

At the back edge of the forest, where town property gives way to farmland off Woonsocket Hill Road, the road passes close to where Soares says a hunting cabin used by the former owner once stood. He has been hiking the area with permission for close to 30 years and was glad when the estate’s inheritors decided to donate the property to the town, under the supervision of the Conservation Commission, in exchange for a small tax agreement. As it turns out, the adjacent swamp that made the property useless to develop has also, with the assistance of some beavers, blocked access to the public to whom the land now supposedly belongs.

“They just keep expanding their range and causing problems,” he said.

Soares said work on the road would likely begin in August when the water levels are low. Until then, Cedar Swamp will remain as it is, a secluded patch of public land undisturbed except by nature’s own builders.

Comments

You have to keep cutting the dam apart because its hard to get rid of those little workers. National Grid broke the dam when they were working in there to gain access.Beavers are amazing creatures.

I can't imagine a better neighbor a for a conservation commission than a beaver. That habitat is bringing fish, wildlife and game species to your property. You need to hire a qualified flow device installer, and stop trying to do this yourself on the cheap. Our flow device worked to safely maintain our wetlands for a decade. Because of the beavers we regularly watched muskrat, otter, woodduck and even mink!

Just leave the beavers alone, they're doing their thing...haven't wild animals been disturbed enough with constant building of malls, etc...Dowling Village is a clear example. Just let them be.

Has it occurred to the Conservation Commission that beavers were here before they they were. They, the Commission, are encroaching on the beavers native habitat. The beavers should be left alone in their homes.

Long term residents will remember that flooding occurred in the Lapre Road neighborhood and other areas in the vicinity of Cherry Brook for many, many years. The swamps along Greenville Road feed into Cherry Brook. Wouldn’t retaining water in the swamps control flooding downstream? The beavers have been in those swamps for some time now and I haven’t seen a newspaper article about Lapre Road flooding for quite some time. One has to wonder what role the beavers have played in solving the flooding issue in the Lapre Road neighborhood. Maybe it’s just coincidence, but if I lived in the Lapre Road area I’d be circulating a petition to protect the beavers and let them stay.

Mike Clifford

Gee Wally, why is Eddie Haskell so mean? Cause he doesn't like The Beaver. Stop being Eddie Haskell!

The property was acquired in 2010 for the purpose of preservation and passive recreation for residents. Beavers arrived in 2011, built a dam and flooded the access path. A water diversion system was installed by a professional but the beavers built a second dam which compromised its effectiveness. A second system was installed which worked until a third dam was constructed which is causing flooding of the path and the access road. The CC simply wishes to achieve the original goal of creating recreational opportunities for our town residents by returning the water level to its natural state. While the CC welcomes any assistance in finding a reasonable solution, criticism based on false assumptions and incorrect conclusions is unwarranted and certainly not helpful.

Paul Soares

There have been beavers there sense i can remember 30 years ago. Every year we would cut the dam off the access road to drain water from road.We would cut the dam and a week later it was back. A backhoe would be perfect to breach dam.

I am a long time resident of woodlawn rd. I remember on more than a few occasions where cherry brook would flood my back yard and street along with my neighbors. I remember my father and many neighbors complain for many years and see money wasted on studies that went nowhere. It was advised that the culvert was (and still is) the main reason why flooding in our area occured. The culvert is located on meadowbrook dr and runs under the road and under the train tracks and just on the other side. The problem is the culvert is wide on the meadow brook side but on the other side it is a fraction of the size, restricting the ability of the water to effectively drain out. This causes the water to back up and rise. Before the beavers every year we would have flooding in our yards, our basements and in the streets. More importantly we had to have sump pumps to try to keep up with the water seeping into the basements. This made most of our homes basements useless because they were always wet. Even in moderate rain falls we would see some kind of flooding and water seeping through the floor. If some people remember that our issue was on the town council agenda every month for much longer than any town residents issue should have been. Since the beavers have moved in they solved a problem that town council and administration at that time simply could not or would not help rectify. Those dams the beavers have made keep those flood waters back. They allow the water to flow out slower preventing moderate to severe flooding issues that we encountered for many years. Removing those dams or worse the beavers will unduly create flooding, stress, property damage and once again potential mold issues due to constant dampness. In this article it is stated that it was once a hunting preserve as I see it now it is now a nature preserve. I believe that the public should have access to public land but I do not believe it should be at the cost of the residents down stream who like having our yards to enjoy and our basements. In the last 8 or so years my sump pump has been used only a few times including this past winter with the snow then rapid thaw and rain. The water levels in cherry brook did rise but it did not flood.

As far as additional funding lets fix and repair other parts of town such as bushee park behind the police station. There are many public places that can use a refresh or even just some good maintenance. how about the park area by the library?

in this case the conservation commission needs to leave the beavers alone. The town counsil and administration before the beavers arrival could not help. This time they can help be denying any funding that would affect the beaver dams and the beavers. I would ask to go one step further and request that the town council enact an ordinance that protects the beavers and the dams (as they are not a nuisance to the town) by preventing anyone or group from causing harm to a solution we residents of woodlawn road, lapre road and meadowvrook drive are very happy with.

To mr. Cliffords point he is 100% correct in his statement, since we have had the beavers not only is cherry brook no longer a fixture on the town agenda we have been flood free for over 8 years. March 30th of 2010 to be exact. I know there is a compromise that can be found but remo i g dams and rebuilding roads for a few people is not worth the health and wellbeing of the many.

Thank you

There is NOTHING better for our ecology than beavers changing the landscape. Anyone with any sense can look into the life cycle of beavers and understand the vital role they play in not letting the environment become stale with old growth and little for the creatures that live in the areas between woods, fields and water.

Leave them alone and be patient. They will flood the area, harvest everything essential to them and move on. The dam will remain for a while and it will eventually rot away.

By that time, the plant life they survive on will return and the cycle will repeat. This IS how nature works. Stop interfering!

If you want a nature trail, copy Roger Williams Zoo and build and elevated walkway through the flooded areas.

Draining the swamp and removing the beavers is not the answer.

We have wetland laws for a reason.

Beavers can alter a watercourse, we as humans in RI are prohibited from doing so. Let nature take it's course and relax. This is how it should be.

Changing the natural process of nature is as far from "Conservation" as one can get. The Conservation Commission should should conserve the natural process. Stop bucking against the tide, it is futile and unnatural.

Do what a "Conservation Commission" should do and conserve nature rather than bend it to one's own needs.

People don't "need" access to this area. They just want it...
Wanting something is not a right to it.

Wade, canoe or walk the edges, just leave nature to nature....

Complaining about water in a swamp sure seems like a fool's errand.
News Flash: It's a swamp and swamps hold water!