$1.5 million acquisition of "Mercy Woods" tract near Diamond Hill Reservoir will protect drinking water supplies and wildlife habitat, and provide opportunities for public recreation.
PROVIDENCE – The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) today announced it has helped permanently protect 229 acres of open space in the northeast corner of Cumberland. The Town of Cumberland will use the land for active and passive public recreational purposes including hiking, birdwatching, and cross-country skiing. The $1.5 million "Mercy Woods" project also includes 17.5 acres to create much-needed new community practice ballfields. The property – formerly owned by the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas Northeast Community – is situated in a key conservation area abutting 951 acres of protected land surrounding Diamond Hill Reservoir and over 1,000 protected acres in and around Diamond Hill Reservation.
Today's announcement on the property capped a three-year process led by Mayor William Murray and his staff and included financial backing from the Town of Cumberland ($405,000), the Pawtucket Water Supply Board ($300,000), The Nature Conservancy ($295,000 via a grant from the Champlin Foundation), and the Cumberland Land Trust ($100,000). In exchange for a $400,000 DEM Open Space grant made possible by the 2016 Green Economy Bond, the Town has conveyed a conservation easement over 211.5 acres of the land to DEM.
The property consists of woodlands, open fields, wetlands, stone walls, and existing footpaths. Its acquisition will protect the drinking water quality of nearby Diamond Hill Reservoir, preserve wildlife habitat and several species of rare plants, and provide public recreational and educational opportunities. It connects to existing local trail systems as well as the historic 30-mile Warner Trail, which stretches from Cumberland to Sharon, MA. Designated parking areas will be available on Highland View Road and the foot of Sumner Brown Road, providing easy access for public recreation. The Cumberland Land Trust, a co-funder of the project, will manage public access.
"Investments in open space enhance our communities by protecting drinking water supplies, iconic places, and locally significant lands," said Governor Gina M. Raimondo. "Passage of our 2018 Green Economy and Clean Water Bond will put aside more needed funding to protect green spaces and help ensure that Rhode Island remains a wonderful place to live, work, visit, and raise a family."
"We're delighted to support the Town of Cumberland and its partners in their efforts to preserve this magnificent conservation area for the enjoyment of present and future generations," said DEM Director Janet Coit. "The Mercy Woods property is a sanctuary for wildlife and plant life and a wonderful place to engage in outdoor recreational activities, especially with its connection to local trails. Rhode Islanders truly enjoy these special places and the positive benefit such natural assets provide to our quality of life. Fantastic!"
"History is being made with the acquisition of this prime 229-acre site," said Cumberland Mayor William Murray, noting that Mercy Woods is the second-largest open space purchase in Cumberland's history. "We are preserving a wilderness, protecting our water supply, and creating 17 acres of recreation fields for our youth."
"Cumberland Land Trust is excited that the purchase of 229 acres from the Sisters of Mercy Northeast Community is now complete," said Randy Tuomisto, President of the Cumberland Land Trust. "These beautiful 211.5-acres will be maintained as conservation land in perpetuity. The Sisters of Mercy purchased this as farmland in 1913. Hikers today will find 100-year-old oaks and pines, historic stonewalls/cart paths and splendid views of Diamond Hill Reservoir. We are thankful to all of our partners and to the Sisters of Mercy who made this possible."
"This project had something for everyone: drinking water protection, wildlife habitat, historic hiking trails, and the opportunity for new ballfields, and it's the largest unprotected, undeveloped property left in Cumberland," said Scott Comings, Associate State Director of The Nature Conservancy. "If we take care of nature, nature will take care of us, and Mercy Woods is a great example of that. We're very grateful to The Champlin Foundation, whose support made it possible to protect this special place."
"The Pawtucket Water Supply Board continually seeks opportunities to protect its source waters by purchasing property or conservation easements on properties within the Abbott Run watershed," said Chris Collins, Source Water Manager for the Pawtucket Water Supply Board. "We are pleased to collaborate with the Town of Cumberland, DEM, Champlin Foundation, and Cumberland Land Trust for the purchase of the 229-acre Sisters of Mercy property. The preservation of this land will help protect the raw water used to supply a population of 125,000 retail and wholesale customers with clean, safe drinking water."
The property surrounds the Mount St. Rita Health Centre and two other existing administrative buildings, which are part of the Mercy Northeast Community and are not part of the conservation easement.
"The Sisters of Mercy of the former Rhode Island Province voted over 30 years ago to explore options to place their sacred land in conservation," says Sister Jacqueline Marie Kieslich, Northeast Community President. "This land hosted their home and center of prayer, and later, Mount St. Rita Health Centre, their health-care ministry. The sisters' long-held intention has come to fruition at last, and we are delighted that the fields and forestlands that have given us so much joy and consolation are going to be preserved into the future."
Pointing out that the sisters' Mercy mission calls them to protect the Earth, Sister Marie continues, "This sale to the Town of Cumberland ensures that this beautiful land will remain a place of natural beauty and enjoyment for visitors, and a place of haven for its many natural inhabitants, both flora and fauna."
Rhode Island's wealth of historic parks, bikeways, and green spaces provide for public enjoyment – along with improving the health of the environment, strengthening the state's climate resilience, and supporting the economy. Since 1985, over 10,000 acres of land have been protected.
For more information about DEM divisions and programs, visit www.dem.ri.gov. Follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RhodeIslandDEM or on Twitter (@RhodeIslandDEM) for timely updates.