Wed, 24 Mar 2010 22:12:40NORMAN BIRD SANCTUARY
583 Third Beach Rd.,
Middletown, RI 02842
by Jackie Sheridan
Norman Bird Sanctuary in Middletown is quite literally for
the birds. Established through the will of Mabel Norman
Cerio in 1950, the sanctuary is the largest area of preserved open
space in Newport County, comprising more than 300 acres with
seven miles of scenic trails. Although bikes and dogs are
prohibited, snug paths and sprawling undisturbed plant life are
worth the solitary wander on foot, so be sure to don comfortable
sneakers and watch your step’
A gravel path leads you behind the sanctuary barn and
store, by a historical burial site and onto the trail network. A
few steps will bring you to a fork, where the gravel edges right,
along Woodcock Trail, and a grass track stems left. Traipsing
the grass will eventually lead you to a wooden bridge at the
Theodore Clarke Sturtevant Waterfowl Habitat, where, depend-
ing on the season, you’ll see birds and turtles converging on
roots and rocks.
Meander further to reach the vines and rock ridges of
Hanging Rock Trail. When entering the woodlands, look up.
Birds will be twittering and swooping overhead, and you’ll have
to be quick to catch them in the viewfinder of your camera. You
may see anywhere from 30 to 50 species on one walk. Stick to
the path so as not to disturb their habitat.
Flanked by Gardiner and Nelson ponds, continuing your
walk will lead you to a rock face with panoramic views of Sachuest
Point and the Atlantic Ocean. Maneuvering across the ridge can
be tricky, so stick to the boardwalk over dense wetlands. After
your hike, follow trail markers back to the barn, where exhibits
describe the species of birds and the eco-system. Norman Bird
Sanctuary is open every day from 9am to 5pm, and you can
explore for a nominal entrance fee of $5 ($3 for seniors; $2 for
children). Members walk for free.
Less than a mile from the sanctuary, an expanse of 242 acres
comprises Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge. The
Middletown property saw sheep grazing and farmland until World
War II, when it was employed as a rifle range and
communications hub for the US Navy. In 1970, a 70-acre donation from the Audubon Society of Rhode Island established the wildlife refuge. Wide, flat and lacking tree cover, 2.7 miles of open trails at Sachuest make for a comfortable walk on a beautiful day.
There are two hiking trails designed to follow the curves
of the point. Flint Point Trail, 1.2 miles around, curves to the
north, showcasing views of Sakonnet River and Third Beach via
three public observation platforms. Ocean View Loop runs SOUtl1,
for 1.5 miles of shoreline, with signs to at least six access points
for some of the best fishing in Newport County, day and night.
Surf rolls against the southernmost cliffs and Island Rocks in the
distance, and drowns the crackle of gravel underfoot.
Sachuest Point provides more than spectacular views of the
sea. Walkers look out to Sakonnet Point Lighthouse, and on a
clear day, if you squint hard enough you’ll see tiny Cuttyhunk
and the Elizabeth Islands to the southeast. Trails on the point
see moderate traffic; you’ll most likely cross paths with runners,
fishermen or other locals out for a stroll. Your pooch can join
you too, but only on a leash no longer than 10 feet. Kids should
leave the kites at home, as the flying shapes resemble large birds
of prey, which might scare smaller birds away. The refuge offers
ample parking and free entry from sunrise to sunset. A Visitor
Center houses bathrooms and a small museum where children
can learn more about Sachuest Point animals and sea life.