NORTH SMITHFIELD – It’s been nearly two decades in the making, but the North Smithfield Land Trust is finally ready to welcome visitors to the newly dedicated hiking trails at Booth Pond.
The Booth Pond Conservation Area is a 132-acre protected area located behind Dowling Village on the North Smithfield/Woonsocket line. The North Smithfield Land Trust and town of North Smithfield jointly own 42 acres, while the city of Woonsocket owns another 90 acres.
Last Thursday, May 27, members of the Land Trust gathered to formally dedicate the new signage leading into the area from Dowling Village. The trail access is located near the entrance to The Club at Dowling Village apartments, approximately between Lowe’s and Aldi.
As Land Trust Treasurer Carol Ayala explains it, the project has been a long haul for those involved with it from the start.
“This has been a saga, as everybody knows,” she said.
A portion of the area was originally targeted for development as part of Dowling Village when the complex was first proposed in the early 2000s. At the time, a group of residents and conservationists formed the Valley Alliance for Smart Growth to oppose the project.
The group convinced the previous owner to set aside 42 acres near Booth Pond for conservation. According to Caroly Shumway, former president of the Valley Alliance for Smart Growth, the effort was not just about protecting the water in Booth Pond, which flows toward the Woonsocket Reservoirs that provide drinking water for several communities. The pond is also home to 52 species of dragonfly and damselfly, some of which are considered endangered.
“The reason this land is worth preserving is it has a globally endangered dragonfly on it, and it’s a fen in the middle of the city,” she said.
The Land Trust eventually secured a $400,000 grant from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management to purchase the property, but they needed more in order to make their dreams of a preserved hiking area a reality. In 2014, they convinced the Town Council to pitch in the remainder of the funds, and the town purchased the property for around $940,000.
Though the area was now under Land Trust control, it took several more years to secure public parking and access to the trails. Ayala credited Town Planner Tom Kravitz with working with the developer to map out an easement into the property as construction continued on Dowling Village.
“The tenacity of the people in this Land Trust is to be lauded. They have worked so hard for so many years,” Shumway added.
Over the years, several other individuals also contributed to the effort. They included the late Mary McDonald, a past Land Trust president who was dedicated to securing the Booth Pond trails, and Steven Desrosiers, a Woonsocket resident who founded the Booth Pond Community Action group to work on the issue from the Woonsocket side. It was Desrosiers who mapped the existing trails and enlisted the help of a friend to design the official trail map.
“He’s just been an undying advocate,” Ayala said.
Land Trust members also thanked the North Smithfield Department of Public Works for installing the trail signage and Michael Debroisse, a North Smithfield resident who works as superintendent of engineering in Woonsocket, for working to curb ATV usage and adopt the same trail regulations on the Woonsocket side. ATVs have continued to pose a problem for trail users, tearing up the trails and sometimes removing signs, according to Land Trust members.
“National Grid is trying to help us cut down access,” Ayala said. “They come in through the power lines and then they zoom into the open space.”
The trails are also accessible from Jillson Avenue in Woonsocket, but Land Trust members said parking was limited. Trail maps will be available at the Dowling Village entrance. They will also be available online at www.nslandtrustri.org, though the website is currently under construction.