Vines give way to island views
After the events of Saturday, there can be no doubt that the people of Jamestown believe wholeheartedly in the value and importance of rural landscapes. The sweeping view of the Dutra, Neale, and Hodgkiss Farms from the Newport Bridge serves as a connection to the production of our food and as a reminder of our agrarian heritage.
Now, we will be treated to this spectacular view from land. With the belief that Jamestown residents place a high value on our rural landscapes, over 50 volunteers from the Conanicut Island Land Trust and the community worked tirelessly this past Saturday to clear brush and debris lining the east and west sides of North Main Road.
On both sides of North Road, north of the Great Creek, there are extraordinary fields and pastures which have existed for centuries but have been largely obscured from view by the brush that has grown up by the side of the road. This stretch of road has to be one of the most beautiful in our state, yet, at most times of the year, it has been difficult to see the fields or the sheep and cattle grazing in them.
Despite temperatures in the low 30s and frost on the ground, volunteers met on the corner of Weeden Lane and North Main Road early Saturday morning, ready to work but facing a daunting task. Just clearing the brush that lined the Neale Farm, on the east side of North Road, was formidable in itself, complicated by over 300 yards of bull briar and years of stubborn bittersweet vines, and the land trust had committed to opening up views of the Watson Farm on the west side of North Road, as well.
As people began cutting and hauling the brush, Quentin Anthony, president of the land trust, questioned if the original plan had been overambitious. “With my spirits in free fall, I looked up and saw Nick DiGiando and 11 members of the ‘Dream Team’ from Atlantic Landscaping arrive. This ended my doubts as Nick and the Dream Team went to work with a vengeance,” Anthony said.
The volunteers worked quickly, and their progress was immediately apparent. The vines released their stranglehold on the landscape and the view emerged. What was equally striking about the morning was the diversity of the volunteers. There were young and old, men and women, some whose parents and grandparents were born in Jamestown and some who had recently arrived.
Island institutions Brian Dutra and Archie Clark operated backhoes, digging out stumps while the father-son team of Matt and Peter Largess manned their chipper, turning piles of debris into woodchips. Tucker Neale worked beside his parents, landowners and farmers George and Martha, cutting down small trees with chainsaws, and Lisa Lawless and her young sons worked with Boy Scout Troop 1 hauling brush. Neighbors Craig Amerigian and Tom Mackey, armed with brushcutters, worked along the edge of the Watson Farm. Dorsey Beard ran a mobile coffee shop, traveling up and down North Road with hot coffee and doughnuts, ensuring that everyone was warm and caffeinated.
The volunteers came to the project with different perspectives, but, at the same time, with a shared belief in the importance of what the land trust was doing for the community. For example, Archie Clark, having seen so much open space disappear in his lifetime, recognized how critical it was to open up the view of what little remained. More recent arrivals saw the project as enhancing the qualities that attracted them to our island in the first place. Despite the differences, there was the common objective to highlight and enhance what makes our island special.
Afterwards, Mary Webster, a land trust director, reflected, “When I watched the work being done with the heavy equipment, I had the horrible feeling that I could have been watching developers instead of this wonderful group of volunteers who want to preserve the island. We were all working to save our past and preserve our farms for our future.” Mary’s husband, Dennis Webster, said, “I just hope the land trust and the town are able to protect the remaining farms so Jamestown residents won’t be looking at houses in these fields 20 or 30 years from now.”
By noon, the major part of the cutting had been done, and everyone regrouped for a tailgate lunch. Spencer Potter and his daughter Diana grilled bratwurst and onions on the back of a pickup truck and volunteers proudly surveyed the incredible amount of work that had been accomplished.
Craig Amerigian calculated that 1,400 linear feet of brush and debris had been cleared from the edge of the Neale Farm and over 300 linear feet had been cleared along the Watson Farm. After lunch, DiGiando left Armando Gutierrez and Gilberto Franco to help with the monumental chipping job. Anthony said, “I told Craig (Amerigan) that with Armando and Gilberto, we had Shaq and Michael Jordan on our team. Their energy carried us through the rest of the day, and at sunset the mission was accomplished.”
At its inception, the idea was that with a little effort the views of the Neale and Watson Farms could be opened up for the enjoyment of the community. “We were, in part, right and, in part, wrong,” said Anthony. “We opened up the views and they exceeded all expectations, but it required a massive effort. There was an unexpected benefit that caught us by surprise. The project created an unsurpassed view of the marsh from North Road. So, whether you like Belted Galloways or great blue herons, there is something for you.”