Newport’s Ballard Park Expansion Includes Better Protection
October 12, 2020
NEWPORT, R.I. — An unheralded park with a variety of habitats is getting bigger and better protected.
Less known than nearby Fort Adams State Park or Brenton Point State Park, Ballard Park is slightly farther inland than those waterfront landmarks. But with its woodlands, salt marsh, and hiking trails, the 72-acre sanctuary offers an immediate immersion into nature.
The park is most familiar to locals, be it idle students from Rogers High School, which sits across the street from the park’s entrance, or young families enjoying pumpkin strolls and other events put on by the erstwhile volunteer group Friends of Ballard Park.
The organization disbanded in 2018, putting the park’s management and vision in doubt. But a new collaboration between the Aquidneck Land Trust (ALT), the city, and the Ballard family ensured that the public green space endures.
“This will re-energize the property and hopefully get it cleaned up so it’s more used than in the past,” said Charles Allott, ALT’s executive director.
Allott envisions a revitalized outdoor classroom with nature excursions and events run by Rogers High School and organizations like the Newport Tree Conservancy.
“We will partner with anyone that wants to,” he said.
The park’s unique attributes include two former granite quarries, scenic overlooks, and a wildlife refuge. It has seasonal streams, a 3-acre meadow, a half-acre vernal pool, and a maple swamp. The property contains the upper portion of the Gooseneck Cove salt marsh, an estuarine and refuge frequented by migratory birds. It’s part of an 80-acre corridor that runs from the coast to a 4.65-acre property owned and protected by the Audubon Society of Rhode Island.
Five labeled trails and a number of spur trails offer hikes and walks through different elevations and landscapes.
“To have a 72-acre park and nature preserve that remains a community asset is really pretty amazing,“ Allott said.
The park was created 1990, when local resident and benefactor Carol Ballard donated 13 acres to the city for the park and another 58 acres as a wildlife refuge. A 3.67-acre lot was recently transferred from the Ballard family and incorporated into the park.
Friends of Ballard Park was formed in 1996 to clear trash and host educational programs and events, such as concerts, mushroom hikes, and school field trips. After it dissolved, the Ballard family asked ALT to permanently preserve the area from development and maintain its free public access.
The property’s enhanced protection includes boosting the conservation status of the city-owned 13-acre lot and the 3.67-acre lot with conservation easements held by ALT.
In a complex agreement, the land trust, the city, and the Ballard family each contributed $100,000 of seed money for an endowment that will fund improvements and events at the park. The city’s portion of the funding was secured in February through an open-space protection grant program run by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. The land trust will oversee the endowment, and the city will continue to perform maintenance. On Sept 23, the City Council approved its share of the financial transaction and merger of the three primary lots to create the Carol C. Ballard Park and Wildlife Preserve.
The park entrance is where Ruggles Avenue merges with Wickham Road at Rogers High School.