Just 15 minutes west of the State House, Route 44 becomes Putnam Pike and leads to the Powder Mill Ledges Wildlife Refuge: 100 acres of deep woodlands, a small pond, meadows, pine forest, rock outcroppings, and a habitat of animals and birds. You will also find the Audubon Society of Rhode Island headquarters, which serves as a hub for nature hikes, programs, lectures, and events.
“My favorite place on the refuge is the big meadow where all the butterflies, dogbane beetles, dragonflies, and wolf spiders hang out,” refuge manager Kim Calgano says. “In the summer and fall, there are so many beautiful wildflowers to see. I think families should remember to take their time and not rush along. My favorite season is autumn when the leaves change color, the air smells different, and the animals are all making a last mad dash at fattening up.”
Be sure to have kids take an easy-to-read map from the ASRI headquarters and lead the way to see if they can spot the changes in the season. Take you time in that first meadow, as Calgano recommends, and consider bringing a simple pair of binoculars along. Encourage “hush mode” and challenge young explorers to sit and watch for five minutes straight and then write or draw everything they witnessed in a simple nature journal. Follow the Blue Trail (let them lead and watch their independence and confidence grow!) through the forest to another meadow, and back into the forest, crossing a long boardwalk and by a pond, another wonderful spot to slow down and flex that nature observation muscle again.
You can also fashion a simple scavenger hunt: how many different kinds of birds and pine cones do they find? Parents need not fuss about actual species, although a quick free download in your phone’s app store will pull up the California Academy of the Sciences “Seek by iNaturalist” – even some of the youngest hikers can point and shoot the phone at a flower or tree leaf and the app will recognize and predict the species name. It will likely identify tree swallows, which are just about to leave for winter migration south, eastern white pines and its long, skinny pine cones that are perfect for collecting, and the last blooms of pink Joe Pye weed in the meadows before that first frost.
Turn to Rhody Reads on page 78 for info on Wendy Gorton’s new book 50 Hikes with Kids: New England. In addition to being an author, Gorton is a global education consultant who has traveled to more than 50 countries to design programs, build communities, and train other educators to do the same.