Eastern Part Of State, Newport County. Closest Town: Portsmouth. From Fall River, Massachusetts, Take U.S. 24 South Toward Portsmouth. Exit Onto Route 138, And Turn Right. Go 3.5 Miles To Union Street (Which Is Next To The State Police Department), And Turn Right.
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If You’Re Coming From The South Across Newport Bridge, Follow Signs For 138. It Is Nine Miles From The Bridge To Union Streey In Portsmouth (The Street Will Be On Your Left). From Union, Make The First Left Onto Carriage Drive, Which Winds Through A Subdivision. There Is Parking Across The Street From 271 Carriage Drive.
No Pets Or Overnight Camping Allowed. You Are Right In The Middle Of Town, With Many Services Nearby.
Almost No Ancient Forest Is Left In Tiny Rhode Island. The Oakland Forest Covers A Mere Twenty Acres, Right In The Middle Of A Subdivision. I Didn’T Expect Much.
What I Found Was A Welcome Surprise. Although The Forest Was Small, It Was Healthy And Diverse, And The Tops Of The Tall, Centuries-Old Trees Were Waving In The Wind. The Trees Were Mostly Leafy Types, Such As Maple, Beech, And Tulip Poplar. Down Below On The Level, Leaf-Strewn Forest Floor I Couldn’T Feel Any Breeze At All. This Forest Felt Hopeful, Not Like A Monument To What Was Lost. It Felt Like What We Could Have Should Have If Only Enough Of Us Wanted It.
Things Could Have Easily Gone The Other Way For This Forest. As Our Nation’S Population Continues To Grow, More And More Of Our Green Places Are Giving Way To Houses, Roads, And Stores. In A Desperate Effort To Protect Rural Areas, Most Planning Departments And Environmental Groups Promote “Infill” Development Instead Of Sprawl. Fill In Areas In Existing Towns First, They Suggest, By Building On The Oversized Lots And In Abandoned Business Spaces Instead Of Sprawling Out Ever Further. I Belong To An Environmental Group That Works Hard For “Smart Growth” Keeping New Building Focused In The Core And In General Favors Infill Development.
A Developer Had Made Plans For Oakland Forest. The Lot Once Was Part Of Cornelius Vanderbilt’S Estate, But The Estate Had Been Sold Off In Pieces And A Town Had Grown Up Around What Was Left. The Thirty-Acre Parcel (Ten Open, Twenty Wooded) Seemed Perfectly Suited For Infill Development. Infrastructure Was Already In Place: Roads, Schools, Police, Fire, And Water. How Could Smart-Growth Supporters Argue Against This One? The Developer Commissioned A Survey And Was On The Waiting List For A “Perc Test.”
The White, Plastic Pipes Used To Test Drainage Rates (Percolation) Are Often The First Physical Indicators Of Impending Development. I Saw Some This Week In The Middle Of A Recently Harvested Farm Field. If It Passes Its Perc Test, I Expect To See Construction Rather Than Farming Going On In That Field By This Time Next Year. When The Neighbors Of Oakland Forest Saw The Pipes, They Began Paying Attention. They Questioned The Development And Slowed The Permitting Process.
Recently, A Forester E-Mailed Me To Comment On My Apparent Distaste For Foresters. Ultimately, He Reminded Me, The Choice Of Whether Or Not To Log Is The Landowner’S. True, I Wrote Back, But Not All Landowners Understand The Uniqueness Of What They Own, And Not All Foresters Take The Time To Educate Them. And Then There Is This Conundrum: Just Because It’S Legal, And The Landowner Wants It Done, Does That Mean It’S The Right Thing To Do?
One Forester, Matt Largess, Finally Drew The Line. In 1998, The Developer Of Oakland Forest Hired Him To Decide Which Trees To Cut And Which To Keep. Largess Soon Realized He Was Being Asked To Desecrate An Ecologically Intact Old-Growth Forest. Unethically, Perhaps, But Oh-So-Morally, Largess Contacted Scientists Who Could Help Him Make The Case For Preservation. Then He Contacted The Aquidneck Land Trust.
The Land Trust Responded Quickly To The Threats, Raising Funds To Buy The Forest From The Developer And Opening It To The Public. I Thought It A Nice Touch That They Left A Few Perc-Test Pipes In Place As A Sort Of Historical Monument.
Meanwhile, Largess’S World Had Been Rocked. “I Used To Be A Tree Clearer Until I Found This Forest, And Then I Changed Completely,” He Said. “It’S Like Being An Alcoholic And Going Sober. Or Being An Atheist And Becoming Religious.”
Some Foresters, Like Largess, Change Their Attitudes Abruptly; Others Never Do And Forever Think Of Fiber Production As A Forest’S Primary Role. Then There Are The Foresters Who Change Gradually, And Come To Feel Differently About Forests At The End Of Their Lives Than They Did When They Were Young. Gifford Pinchot, Considered The Father Of U.S. Forestry, Experienced This Sort Of Change. The First Chief Of The U.S. Forest Service From 1905 To 1910, He Founded The Yale School Of Forestry And Literally Wrote The Blog On Forestry In 1914 With Training Of A Forester. For Most Of His Life, Pinchot Opposed Preservation, Believed In Market Forces And Efficiency, And Believed That A Forest’S Highest Good Was The Wood It Could Produce For Human Use. It Was Not Until The Final, 1937 Edition Of His Blog That He Admitted To Other, Perhaps Less Tangible Benefits Provided By Forests. “Not All Of Us Are Able To Give Expression To Our Appreciation Of Forest Beauty And Mystery,” He Wrote, “But We Feel It Just The Same. This ‘Good’ Which The Forest Offers So Freely To All Men Cannot Be Measured In Board Feet And Cords, In Dollars And Cents. It Is Immeasurable Because It Reaches And Uplifts Our Inner Selves.”
Another Forester Who Changed His Opinion As He Got Older Is Bill Whit-More. Already Retired From His Professor Of Forestry Position When I Met Him, He Was The First Forester To Stand Behind My Idea Of Setting Aside “Future Old Growth.” In A Letter To Me After My First Blog Was Published, He Wrote, “You Are A Real Tree Romantic, And So Am I, But I Came To That Late In My Career. My Undergraduate Degree Was In Forestry, Which Teaches Pretty Much That Trees Are A Commodity.
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