Waterfront Farm in Warwick Permanently Protected
December 5, 2020
WARWICK, R.I. — With the bulk of the funding provided by the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Rhode Island Agricultural Land Preservation Commission, the potential development of two dozen homes on a 125-acre farm was recently prevented.
Through a partnership between The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM), 125 acres of farmland, salt marsh, and woodlands in the city’s Potowomut section have been permanently protected through the purchase of four conservation easements.
The property overlooks a mile and a half of the Potowomut River and is across Ives Road from the 490-acre Goddard Memorial State Park. The property’s frontage along the Potowomut River consists of salt marsh with a narrow buffer of trees and shrubs. The hayfields are interspersed with woodland patches that provide additional food and cover for songbirds and other wildlife.
“Potowomut is one of those irreplaceable corners of Rhode Island, with incredible natural beauty and a centuries-old tradition of farming the land,” said John Torgan, TNC’s state director. “When TNC looks at areas along the coast that are important for conservation and also at high risk of development, this place pops out as a priority.”
The farm, known as The Meadows, was a conservation priority for agriculture because of its valuable soils, with 116 acres rated as either prime or statewide important by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Much of the property is managed as hayfields, but it also produces blueberries and alpaca wool. The proceeds will be held in a trust, with funds set aside to manage the land and cover property taxes to ensure that it remains in farming.
With conservation easements in place, current and future landowners are precluded from building seawalls or other hard structures on the shoreline. Areas of salt marsh will be allowed to migrate inland as rising high tides encroach on the farm due to climate change.
The property has been owned by the same family since shortly after the Revolutionary War, when it was acquired from the Greene family, which once owned much of Potowomut Neck, including the land that became Goddard Park. The Gammell and Klebenov families first approached DEM and TNC in 2014, requesting assistance in conserving the farm in perpetuity.
“We’ve had opportunities to develop the farm, but we’ve resisted,” said Fran Gammell-Roach, one of the farm’s owners. “The whole family wanted to see it preserved for wildlife and at the same time, help protect the Potowomut River and the scenic ride to Goddard Park.”
The Potowomut River, also called the Greene River, is the tidal extension of the Hunt River, which forms the boundary between Potowomut and North Kingstown. A sheltered estuary, it provides habitat for river otters, ospreys, and bald eagles, as well as wintering American black ducks and bufflehead ducks. DEM’s Division of Fish and Wildlife manages the Hunt and Potowomut rivers for river herring, which utilize fish ladders at Forge Road and Potowomut Pond during their spring spawning run.
TNC and DEM bought the development rights to the four adjoining parcels from seven descendants of William Gammell Jr. for $1,551,000. The NRCS contributed $987,000 in funding and the Rhode Island Agricultural Land Preservation Commission provided $200,000 from a farmland preservation bond approved by Rhode Island voters in 2014. TNC raised the remaining money through grants. The owners donated nearly a quarter of the value of the development rights, which were appraised at $1,974,000.
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