By ecoRI News staff
CUMBERLAND, R.I. — The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) has helped permanently protect 229 acres of open space in the northeast corner of town that will be used for public recreation, including hiking, birdwatching, and cross-country skiing.
The $1.5 million “Mercy Woods” project also includes 17.5 acres to create much-needed community athletic fields, according to DEM. The property, formerly owned by the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas Northeast Community, is in a key conservation area abutting 951 acres of protected land surrounding Diamond Hill Reservoir and more than 1,000 protected acres in and around Diamond Hill Reservation.
The recent announcement on the property capped a three-year process led by Mayor William Murray and his staff and included financial backing from the town ($405,000), the Pawtucket Water Supply Board ($300,000), The Nature Conservancy ($295,000 via a grant from the Champlin Foundation), and the Cumberland Land Trust ($100,000). In exchange for a $400,000 DEM Open Space grant made possible by the 2016 Green Economy Bond, the town has conveyed a conservation easement over 211.5 acres to DEM.
The property consists of woodlands, open fields, wetlands, stone walls, and existing footpaths. Its acquisition will protect the drinking-water quality of nearby Diamond Hill Reservoir, preserve wildlife habitat and several species of rare plants, and provide public recreational and educational opportunities. It connects to existing local trail systems and the historic 30-mile Warner Trail, which stretches from Cumberland to Sharon, Mass.
Designated parking areas will be available on Highland View Road and the foot of Sumner Brown Road, providing easy access for public recreation. The Cumberland Land Trust, a co-funder of the project, will manage public access.
“History is being made with the acquisition of this prime 229-acre site,” said Murray, noting that Mercy Woods is the second-largest open-space purchase in Cumberland’s history. “We are preserving a wilderness, protecting our water supply, and creating 17 acres of recreation fields for our youth.”