Providence, RI - Governor Lincoln D. Chafee today joined DEM Director Janet Coit, members of Rhode Island's Congressional Delegation, and local officials to tour the "Hillsdale" property at 156 Hillsdale Road in Richmond. The property consists of primarily woodlands, wetlands and streams, with frontage on the Beaver River.
The 1,825-acre property was bequeathed to the State of Rhode Island as part of the Estate of Theakston deCoppet. An avid sportsman and lover of nature who passed away in 1937, Mr. deCoppet prepared detailed instructions as to the disposition of this land after his death, stipulating that it be preserved as a "Forest and Wildlife Reservation." The land was transferred from the Theakston deCoppet Trust to the State this week and is the first parcel to ever transfer to the State with an endowment to insure its permanent preservation and proper care-taking as a refuge.
Mr. deCoppet's estate left trust instructions that the General Assembly was required to pass a bill authorizing acceptance of the parcel and agreeing to the terms of the will. A joint resolution by the General Assembly supported this preservation due to the "natural, historic, and ecological significance of Hillsdale." Governor Chafee signed this resolution on June 13, 2014.
As afforded by the joint resolution, the Department of Environmental Management will care for and manage the property according to the wishes of Mr. deCoppet as instructed by the terms of his will. The estate is being transferred with a small income stream, estimated at $20,000 per year, for property management activities based upon a percentage of income from the Trust.
"Rhode Islanders are fortunate to enjoy unparalleled natural beauty, and through the donation of more than 1,800 acres, we are adding to our precious open spaces, and thereby strengthening our economy and our future," Governor Chafee said. "We are grateful that Theakston deCoppet had the foresight to protect this valuable land for Rhode Islanders and the many visitors to our state."
DEM has a long history of active interest in preserving this parcel due to its historical significance, natural resource values, and opportunities for public educational programs. The property is located in the designated Hillsdale Historical and Archeological District and contains remnants of nineteenth century rural industrial development, including foundations for a water powered stone mill, a woolen mill and a dye house, a cider mill, a dance hall and store, and worker housing.
Previously valued at over $700,000, the property includes a three-quarter mile long section of the Beaver River, a major tributary to the Pawcatuck River, along with miles of readily accessible trails and a caretaker's home. The Pawcatuck River's 300 square mile watershed comprises most of southwestern Rhode Island and extends into Connecticut, and provides abundant clean groundwater that serves as the sole source of drinking water for more than 60,000 local residents. It supports roughly 70 percent of Rhode Island's globally imperiled species.
"This is an exceptional opportunity to expand the state's natural lands inventory with the addition of over 1,800 acres of pristine land that will preserve the quality of state's drinking water supply, the history of our industrial development, and our forests and wildlife habitats," noted DEM Director Janet Coit.
"This was an incredibly generous gift to Richmond and the people of Rhode Island. I have to believe Mr. deCoppet is smiling somewhere, knowing he is helping to keep this wooded corner of Rhode Island wild and scenic for future generations," said U.S. Senator Jack Reed.
"Protecting this area continues a long Rhode Island tradition of environmental preservation and stewardship," said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. "Setting aside this land will maintain habitat for important species, preserve historic sites, and help to safeguard the fresh water that thousands of Rhode Island families drink every day. This is a beautiful place, and it will enrich life in Rhode Island for generations to come."
"Preservation of open space and protection of our natural resources is key to maintaining the beautiful landscape that makes Rhode Island what it is," said Congressman Jim Langevin. "This is a historic and environmentally significant piece of land, and I am grateful to the deCoppet family for recognizing its rightful designation as a protected wildlife refuge."
"Rhode Islanders will forever have the benefit of Mr. deCoppet's foresight so many decades ago. The preservation of this land is an incredibly generous gift. This land will forever provide us with fresh, clean air, unspoiled forest to explore and enjoy, and a safe, protected habitat for wildlife. This marvelous donation, that all Rhode Islanders may enjoy, preserves this habitat from encroaching development. We are very fortunate to be able to accept this offering today," said Representative Valencia (D-Dist. 39, Richmond, Hopkinton, Exeter).
"The preservation of Hillsdale helps permanently protect more of the natural beauty and resources that make Rhode Island such a beautiful place to live. This is a very valuable addition to our state, and I'm grateful that future generations will always be able to enjoy the peace, quiet and fresh air of the woods here, thanks to Mr. deCoppet's wonderful gift," said Senator Cool Rumsey (D-Dist. 34, Exeter, Charlestown, Hopkinton, Richmond, West Greenwich).
Following a brief speaking program, Rick Greenwood, deputy director of the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission, and Christopher Raithel, a wildlife biologist in DEM's Division of Fish and Wildlife, provided a tour of the property.