R.I. Land Trusts Protect Open Space, and History

 The 127-acre property now hosts a farmers market year-round and is a popular spot for wedding receptions.

The 127-acre property now hosts a farmers market year-round and is a popular spot for wedding receptions.

Mount Hope Farm in Bristol is just one example of what has been protected

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

BRISTOL, R.I. — The third annual Land Trust Days kicked off earlier this month at one of Rhode Island's most scenic places. It's also one with a dark past.

Mount Hope Farm offers 127 acres of magnificent landscapes and sweeping views of Mount Hope Bay. The former farm and playground for wealthy industrialists is a key landmark in the bloody takeover of Native American lands by English colonists. It also was home to slave owners.

The historic centerpiece of the site is King Philip’s Seat, a large rocky outcrop with a natural throne-like formation. Wampanoag leader Metacom, called King Philip by the colonists, held court at the sacred ground. Metacom was the central figure in the violent King Philip’s War that saw conflict across southern New England, as European colonists eventually wrested control of land from Native Americans.

Metacom was killed Aug. 12, 1676, during a conflict near the farm. He was beheaded and drawn and quartered, his head displayed on a pike in Plymouth Colony for 20 years.

King Charles II awarded the land to Plymouth Colonies. It was sold to wealthy Bostonians. The state of Rhode Island assumed control of the land in 1776 and eventually awarded it to military officers during the Revolutionary War. It was sold or passed on several times to private owners, including slave owner Isaac Royal.

Today, Mount Hope Farm is the site of a bed and breakfast, a farmers market, managed hay fields and a popular spot for wedding receptions — all of which raise money to maintain the land and buildings.

The acquisition of the land by the Mount Hope Trust in 1999 exemplifies one of the many ways in which land trusts attain land. Land trusts typically don't manage large pools of money, but must raise funds when suitable properties are offered for purchase. Some properties are donated. Larger properties often require funds for an outright purchase or to protect the land from development. A land trust, managed by a volunteer board, raises money on an ongoing basis to manage, or steward, its properties.

In order to raise $3.3 million to buy Mount Hope Farm, funds were raised through a $400,000 grant from the state Department of Environmental Management (DEM), direct donations, a loan from a local church and a local voter-approved $1.5 million bond.

Many of Rhode Island’s 45 land trusts were created in the early 1970s to protect the state’s rapid loss of open space, shoreline and farmland to development. Today, 57 square miles of land are managed by land trusts.

“These are the places that form the future of Rhode Island,” said Rupert Friday, director of the Rhode Island Land Trust Council, during the Aug. 8 kickoff at Mount Hope Farm.

Land Trust Days was started in 2011 to connect the public with these protected spaces and land trust volunteers. Fifty-one events, including nature walks, scavenger hunts, kayak trips and cookouts, will be held statewide through Sept. 28.