- September 11, 2021
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EXETER — Roaring Brook flows south from Boone Lake before turning west into the Arcadia Management Area. The stream spills into Browning Mill Pond and then runs out the other side before emptying into the Wood River.
Along the way, the brook swells to form quiet fishing ponds, passes under long wooden boardwalks, tumbles over several earthen and stone dams and skirts an abandoned fish hatchery.
Roaring Brook and other waterways have always been important to the development and history of Rhode Island, and I was eager to explore its course to see what I could find and learn.
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I hiked to the brook by following the Arcadia Trail from the Appie Crossing trailhead on Route 165. I set out with my friends Rick and George on a flat, wide, yellow-blazed path that starts out lined with rock walls that once may have formed a cart path or an animal run to Ten Rod Road (also known as Route 165).
In a hundred yards, the white-blazed Mount Tom Trail opens on the right. We stayed straight and climbed the northeast face of Bald Hill. We passed side trails and skirted downed trees, perhaps toppled recently by Tropical Storm Henri.
The trail descends down the hill, turns left on an old fire road and merges with the blue-blazed North/South Trail, which runs 78 miles from Charlestown to Burrillville. Just ahead on the right is a unique, square, stone-lined fire reservoir built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a Depression-era jobs program. A small creek fills the reservoir from one side, and when the water nears the top, it empties into a small stream on the other side.
It’s clever simple engineering.
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From there, the trail passes Bates School House Road and continues through a gate before crossing Arcadia Road and heading back into the woods. The path narrows through dense foliage and some wetlands before it goes over a bridge built by the New England Mountain Bike Association (NEMBA).
The trail leads to Upper Roaring Brook, a part of Roaring Brook that widens to a shallow, lily-pad covered pond that’s a good fishing hole.
At this point, more than a quarter mile of wooden boardwalks line and cross the brook. They were built over a decade, starting in the early 1990s, to help hikers with disabilities, young families and others walk from Upper Roaring Brook to a smaller pond downstream called Lower Roaring Brook. The work, paid for with a federal trails grant, was done by local carpenters without using mechanized equipment to avoid disturbing the sensitive environment.
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The boardwalk, which includes benches, fishing piers and tables, is elevated to allow animals and reptiles to travel underneath. We crossed the brook on a wooden bridge and noted that just below was a small stone dam that connects with an earthen dam.
The stone dams at Upper and Lower Roaring Brook were built by owners of mills in nearby Arcadia that are now long gone. The bridge’s flat stones, cemented in concrete, were laid to allow mill workers to cross the brook without sinking wheeled equipment.
At Lower Roaring Brook, just downstream, an earthen dam once held a water wheel to power a mill.
On the other side of the bridge, the Arcadia Trail heads left and northeast. But we chose to walk right and southwest on a gravel road. We passed Lower Roaring Brook and then reached Arcadia Road. The bridge for cars over Roaring Book, and a nearby culvert that Roaring Brook passes through, is being rebuilt. The $2-million state project is scheduled to be completed in late October. (For more information on that project, go to ri.gov/press/view/41706.)
After flowing under the road, the brook cascades down a long hillside to Browning Mill Pond, which years ago was a popular state park, swimming spot and picnic site.
Just south of the construction, we crossed the road and walked by a stone foundation with no roof that may have been a park building or mill foundation. We followed a gravel path with picnic benches on the hillside and noted that an old beach at the shoreline is now heavily overgrown with bushes and weeds.
In 2014, the Department of Environmental Management planned to build the Arcadia Natural Resources and Visitors Center on the site, but the 13,000-square-foot project was halted after local officials argued that the state didn’t have the authority to build the facility without first getting town approvals. The courts agreed, and the project was scuttled.
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We walked to a parking lot and headed west on a yellow-marked trail that circled the pond and had many side spurs to small coves. Not far ahead, in a clearing in a pine grove, some tree trunks had been painted with colorful faces.
Further on, the trail crossed another wooden NEMBA bridge and led to an older cement bridge with sluice gates. The outflow was clogged with debris and stagnant water.
We continued by, walking along the top of a long, man-made earthen dike on the west side of the pond. On the left below the berm are the remains of an old fish hatchery. The area is posted as off-limits, but you can still see some of the rectangular concrete tanks and holding ponds that are now overgrown with trees and bushes. A part of the hatchery is still operational but closed to the public.
The dike leads to a long stone dam built in 1885 to control the flow of water to downstream mills, including one built by John Browning. We stopped there, sat on a stone support for the dam, drank some water, ate a snack and gazed across the 46-acre Browning Mill Pond.
It was peaceful.
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I thought about how many different people from how many various walks of life had sat at the same spot to admire the pond. Too many to count, I guessed.
We walked downstream about 20 yards and crossed a bridge over Roaring Brook that flowed west and south to Frying Pan Pond and the Wood River. We climbed the berm again to find a second dam. This one is concrete, about 20 feet high with two gate slots, and may have been used in part to service the fish hatchery.
We continued on the path around the lip of the pond and found a trail we hoped to take north, but it was marked with a sign, “Seven Springs Farm.” We respected the private property, stayed on the pond trail and passed the walls of a stone pavilion, with a slanted roof that is long gone, that may have been built by CCC workers.
Just ahead, we took a side trail north through an old picnic ground and found a road that led uphill and by the iron-gated and fenced Moses Barber Cemetery, which has gravestones dating to the 1800s. We reached Arcadia Road, picked up the Arcadia Trail and followed it back to where we had started.
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In all, we hiked 6.3 miles over 2½ hours.
I enjoyed hiking the Arcadia Trail, but if you want a shorter walk to Roaring Brook and Browning Mill Pond (the pond loop is 1.6 miles), there are parking lots next to both spots. Remember, Arcadia Road is closed for bridge work, so you’ll have to plan a detour to get there.
Whatever short or long trail you walk, I think you’ll enjoy tracing the course of Roaring Brook and the scenic stops along the way, all rich with history.
Starting Sunday, Sept. 12, and continuing through February, all users of state management areas and undeveloped state parks must wear a minimum of 200 square inches of fluorescent orange. During shotgun deer hunting season in December, the requirement increases to 500 square inches.
John Kostrzewa, a former assistant managing editor/business at The Providence Journal, welcomes email at firstname.lastname@example.org.