Delving into North Woods: Part 1

The North Woods, located off of Flagg Road, is preserved land used by the university to enjoy, study and more. PHOTO CREDIT: Stella Mueller | Contributing Reporter

The North Woods located next to Old North Road offers a multitude of outdoor activities for URI students to enjoy, such as hiking, sightseeing and observing wildlife all within a walking distance of classes.

“I think there’s a fair amount of people that are just not familiar with what it [the Woods] offers and really that it even exists in the first place,” said Brett Still, a natural resource sciences (NRS) senior lecturer and the master of environmental science and management program director.

The Woods encompasses a total of 300 acres, all owned by the University, with the majority of the acreage being forested, according to Still. The land is mainly located on the north side of campus along Flagg Road, as well as part of the athletic fields at the bottom of campus.

Over the years, the Woods have been used in many different ways. According to Still, this land was not always preserved by URI or even by the state, and the space was used as a landfill at one point but has since been safely capped.

There were also other ideas of how to use this natural space. There was a proposition in 2008 to expand the campus map onto the North Woods, creating what was named an “Innovation Park.”

The expansion was going to be “… this relationship between local business and the University getting students engaged in entrepreneurship opportunities …” Still said. The expansion was going to further give students opportunities to get experience in the field they’re studying. However, the University decided against this new development in an effort to give URI a natural space to utilize and appreciate.

Currently one of the uses of the area is the “North Woods Project,” a collaboration between undergraduates, graduate students and NRS faculty to promote the sustainable use of URI’s protected woodlands. The project has been in progress for several years, first being proposed around 2018. 

“One of the main goals of the North Woods project is to ensure there’s no major developments that take place within North Woods that would detract from the current configuration of the habitat within the area too,” according to Peter Paton, chair of NRS.

He believes this area has a lot of ecological value not only for the species that inhabit the land but also for people to enjoy.

“It’s somewhat unique that we have this large block of woodland habitat right next to the main campus,” Paton said.

He believes the land should continue to be used as an outdoor learning laboratory, but he also hopes to raise awareness that faculty, students and community members can use the space.

The North Woods already has a system of hiking and walking trails all around the property for public use. However, the project is working on getting markers and identification posts set in place. Some classes explore the North Woods regularly to give students the opportunity to experience fieldwork near campus.

If students are interested in getting involved with the North Woods or looking to explore the area further, anyone can explore the area in their own time. You can also reach out to Still at [email protected] with any further questions or for more information on the project.

A website is in the works for the URI community to update the public on events and general information within the North Woods project.