The Grills Sanctuary in Hopkinton RI and the Grills Preserve in Westerly RI offer some lovely walks in a variety of habitats. Now, a sparkling steel bridge over the Pawcatuck River connects them, offering lots of hiking opportunities..
Both properties are owned and maintained by land trusts in their communities, and August is Land Trusts Month.
The Grills Preserve, owned by the Westerly Land Trust, has more than 500 acres with over two-and-a-half miles of frontage on the Pawcatuck River. There is a large parking lot with an information kiosk at the end of Bowling Lane, off Route 91 in the village of Bradford.
The Gruills Sanctuary, owned by the Hopkinton Land Trust, is smaller, but equally beautiful. The entrance is on Chase Hill Road, at the intersection with Route 216.
Earlier this summer, the land trusts celebrated the opening of the new Polly Coon Bridge, a narrow, steel span over a usually sleepy stretch of the Pawcatuck. (In June, with record rainfall, the river roared.
The bridge is hard to find from the Hopkinton side. Follow the white-blazed Tomaquag Trail that starts in a farm field near the parking lot. (Note the cool stone bridge over Wine Bottle Brook.) Turn right onto the red blazed trail and follow that to the end, and then turn right and follow the trail to the bridge.
From the parking lot at the end of Bowling Lane in Bradford, take the red- and blue-blazed trail to the right of the kiosk. Take the first right onto the blue trail and follow it over two small bridges for about 25- to 30-minutes. When the blazes end, keep going along the river, and you will find the shiny new bridge on the right.
Most of the trails offer easy footing, but they are too rough for a wheelchair or stroller. You can easily, and enjoyably, spend a whole day in the two properties. The sanctuary on the Hopkinton side, has lots of beautiful benches along the trails, and picnic tables near the parking lot.
Rhode Island has 48 trusts that belong to the state’s land trusts council, and most of them offer recreational opportunities for families. During Land Trust Days, through the end of September, there will be more than 60 guided walks on land managed by trusts and the Audubon Society of Rhode Island.
For maps and information, visit ExploreRI.org.