State Land Spotlight: Woody Hill WMA
By John Veale, Habitat Biologist, RI DEM
If you aren’t familiar with Woody Hill Management Area, you’re not alone. This 723-acre property is nestled in Westerly just minutes from Misquamicut Beach, Burlingame and other south shore highlights, but largely goes under the radar as a hidden gem. Isolated from the hustle and bustle of Westerly south of Rt 1, this property boasts opportunities for hunting, trapping, fishing, hiking and wildlife viewing in upland forest habitats and wetland areas.
The property was acquired by the State of Rhode Island in 1955 from the US Forest Service. Prior to this, the Forest Service had acquired the property from several different landowners through the Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenant act of 1937 that, among other accomplishments, was used to purchase lands from private landowners that were no longer suitable for farming. Access to the property is on Fallon Trail, at the end of Woody Hill Rd on the southern side of the property where a parking area and trailhead exist. Several other trailheads enter the property through adjacent parcels surrounding the management area, however these lack dedicated parking areas.
The landscape of Woody Hill is similar to others along the terminal side of the glacial moraine that are so characteristic of southern Rhode Island. Gently rolling, rocky topography flows from dry ridgetops with oak overstory and blueberry/huckleberry understory, to intermittently wet stream bottoms characterized by moist soils, red maple, pepperbush and skunk cabbage. The sharp-eyed visitor will notice several large stands of a paradox of the “evergreen” tree world – a species of deciduous, coniferous tree. Larch, also known as tamarac, are related to other pines but unlike any of their cousins, are the only coniferous tree species on our landscape that drops its needles each fall and regrows them in spring.
A 20-acre impoundment lies at the heart of the management area and was the site for a cooperative project with Ducks Unlimited in 2017. The goal of the project was to restore function to the wetland by replacing a failing water control structure with a new one that now allows biologists to manage water levels to encourage waterfowl breeding and migration stopover. By drawing down the water in spring, areas of shallower water can be drained to expose mudflats and allow emergent wetland vegetation to sprout and grow, creating cover and nesting habitat. The following fall, water is raised back up, flooding those areas of emergent vegetation to provide feeding areas and additional open water for migrating waterfowl. Cooperative projects like this one have been very successful at improving habitat value to wildlife while simultaneously creating more and higher quality hunting opportunities.
Woody Hill is managed as a public hunting area, and game species within its boundaries aren’t limited to waterfowl. White-tailed deer, wild turkey, coyote and several species of small game all occur on the property, providing great hunting opportunities in the upland portions of the property, as well as wetland edges. In addition to the waterfowl in the impoundment, an ample population of beaver is present and anyone wishing to find an “off the beaten path” trapping site would do well to place a few sets here.