Fort Getty: A walk to remember right in our backyard
Only the die-hard fishermen are braving the cold, plying the sea for last-minute stripers or trolling the rivers and ponds for cold-water trout. Other outdoorsmen prepare for the hunt, dusting off stored waterfowl or deer gear. For most people, though, late fall and winter brings on a sort of hibernation state, where the only outdoor exposure comes from running to and from the car when leaving home.
For me, though, it’s the perfect time to lace up my hiking boots and hit the trails. Especially the trails on the west side of Jamestown, across from Mackerel Cove, located inside at Fort Getty.
For history buffs, the fort is a goldmine. Once known as Fox Hill, the British and colonists used Fort Getty to control shipping in the Bay. During the Revolutionary War, because of the fort’s important strategic position, the British attacked the fort. Bought by the United States in 1900 and named after George W. Getty, a colonel in the U.S. Army during the Civil War, permanent fortifications were constructed in 1901 and first garrisoned in July of 1909. The fortifi cations were built to defend the Bay against “ironsides,” which were ironclad ships developed during the Civil War, against which existing forts were ineffective.
After airplanes became commonplace over the battlefields, the fort became obsolete, due to the lack of camouflage from above or protection from behind. During World War II, Fort Getty was an anchoring point for anti-submarine nets deployed across the Bay and served as a POW detention and reeducation camp for German captives, who built the granite gate that stands in the park to this day.
Driving into Fort Getty, keep an eye out for sheep grazing on Fox Hill Farm on the right and horses and future Thanksgiving turkeys at Beaver Head Farm on the left. While the official season lasts from May 20 to Oct. 4, the park remains open to hikers year round. After the park’s booth at the entrance, Fox Hill Marsh appears on the right, with views of Sheffield’s Cove, Dutch Island and the Jamestown Bridge. Shortly after the marsh, the Kit Wright Nature Trail appears on the right, built as an Eagle Scout project by Andrew Johnson and sponsored by the Rotary Club.
The Nature Trail is a short, easy hike, perfect for all ages. On the trail, there are blackberries, blueberries and pokeweed, which is a poisonous berry. There are also many types of trees including cedar, black cherry, birch, sumac, oak and maple. For kids, and for those of us who refuse to grow up, there is an old maple that begs to be climbed, with low, near-horizontal limbs close to the ground. A little further on there is a viewing platform facing with a great information sign and views of Fox Hill Marsh and Fox Hill Farm, perfect for an early morning sunrise or to watch wildlife.
Common birds on the trails are sparrows, robins, crows, osprey, gulls, herons, egrets and ducks of all types. Also commonly seen are foxes, deer, coyotes and a variety of smaller animals. Toward the north end of the trail, the beach and mud flats can offer steamers, mussels, oysters and quahogs, if you’re willing to wade in and put in a little work. Fishing around the dock on the north end or from the rocks on the west side can be outstanding as well.
Fort Getty truly has something for everyone; history buffs, wildlife enthusiasts, seafood lovers and kids will all discover something to remember. With great views of the Jamestown Bridge, Narragansett and the West Passage, including Dutch Island, it’s also the perfect spot to picnic or simply relax by the sea. With no fees for the offseason, now is the perfect time to check out all that Fort Getty has to offer.
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