Public Health & Recreation

Rhode Island’s Great Swamp: It’s Not Just For Ogres

Swamps and wetlands sustain fish, birds, and mammals


Located just outside West Kingston in South Kingstown, the Great Swamp Management Area is one of Rhode Island's largest contiguous swamps. (Rob Smith/ecoRI News)
Special Places Logo Great Swamp Managment Area

WEST KINGSTON, R.I. — The state’s swamps aren’t only for ogres, at least at one popular South County hot spot.

Despite their pop-culture reputation as slimy, smelly habitats for all kinds of gross creatures, swamplands are the unsung heroes of the environment, and more plainly, they’re just cool as hell.

Wetlands produce enormous amounts of food to attract an equally enormous amount of species, making them essentially superhighway habitats for a stunning amount of wildlife. Swamps and wetlands sustain everything from fish to plants to birds to insects to mammals. These areas sustain wildlife so well that the Environmental Protection Agency has compared them to rainforests and coral reefs.

And where wildlife goes, so do nature lovers. Longtime residents of the state might be surprised to find out that one of the biggest swamplands in the region is in South Kingstown, nestled between Route 138 to the north and Worden Pond to the south. Aptly named the Great Swamp, it’s been owned and maintained by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management since 1950 as a state management area.

As a management area, the swamp is left mostly undeveloped, and there’s tighter restrictions over what members of the public can do. (DEM has long struggled to eliminate off-road vehicles from its management areas, which are banned.)

As a result, there’s some 2,200 acres of untouched, forested swampland — one of the largest contiguous areas of its kind in the state — primarily cedar and red maple swamp. It makes for beautiful hiking, and there are 6 miles of flat trails between the management area and nearby Worden Pond. Hikers are likely to see a plethora of wildlife, including dozens of possible bird species at any given time of the year, and other mammals such as beavers.

The area’s undeveloped status makes it crucial for climate resilience. Wetlands of all kinds, including swamps, retain runoff during storms, and provide critical protection for communities from erosion and flooding. Wetlands can even sequester small amounts of carbon annually.

Great Swamp is a particular crown jewel for bird-watching in southern Rhode Island. The area’s status as a wetland makes it an increasingly rich stopover for both local species and migrating birds coming from Canada. Throughout the year, birders are liable to catch a glimpse of Canada geese, ospreys, blue warblers, cormorants, and hundreds of other species nesting in or around the area.

The management area attracts more than just birders. In October, DEM opens the swamp for hunters. Twice weekly starting in October and running through the end of December, DEM stocks the Great Swamp and other management areas with pheasants for hunters.

Anyone interested in hiking during the fall and winter should be advised DEM requires the public to wear 200 square inches of orange during the hunting season or be subject to a fine. See DEM’s Fish and Wildlife office website for full details.

This story is part of our “Special Places” series. Read other stories in this series.

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Recent Comments

  1. Read “Flintlock and Tomahawk” and you get a really crisp understanding of those times. The book came out about 50 years ago but you can find it

  2. The Great Swamp is actually not protected. Since 1995, DEM has logged, mostly in the form of clearcuts, about 90 acres in the Great Swamp.
    This year, DEM is planning on clearcutting 32 more acres in the Great Swamp in one of the last remaining areas of upland forest in the Great Swamp Management Area.
    It should also be noted that all this logging is taking place in a Natural Heritage Area which are areas identified by the old Rhode Island Natural Heritage Program as containing habitats for rare and endangered species.
    For anyone who reads this, please oppose the Great Swamp 32 acre clearcut this year.

    Nathan Cornell

    President of the Old Growth Tree Society

  3. Without question this is as beautiful a place to visit in RI I have also read A Flintlock and Tomahawk and highly recommend it Mr. Cornell, please send me information on this issue as I am interested.

  4. I haven’t been to RI since February 2020. (I grew up in South County.) When I look at aerial or satellite views of the Great Swamp, it appears that most of the water has been drained out. What happened to it???

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