- Access: From Bulgarmarsh Road (Route 177), take Cornell Road about 400 meters south to the trailhead on the right.
- Parking: Available for some cars.
- Dogs: Allowed, but must be leashed or under owner’s voice control.
- Difficulty: Easy; flat trails but sometimes rooted or overgrown.
TIVERTON – Black ash trees once thrived here in the wooded wetlands known as the Basket Swamp.
The name comes from a time when Native Americans harvested trees to make baskets. They soaked the trees in water, then hammered them with wooden mallets to separate the annual growth rings into thin, flexible layers, which were cut into strips and woven into baskets.
The black ash trees, also called basket ash, are all but gone in Tiverton now, and the area where they once grew has been reduced by development.
A 96-acre strip, however, has been protected by the Tiverton Land Trust, which has opened the Basket Swamp Preserve to the public. Hikers can take a short loop trail through the sanctuary for exercise and, if they wish, to learn more about the history of the area. I decided to do both.
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Are the black ash trees gone for good?
Starting at the trailhead on Cornell Road, I followed a white trail a short distance down a gentle incline to a kiosk with information about the preserve and black ash trees. Although they no longer grow in the swamp, two of the trees have been identified near Fort Barton Woods, and plans are underway to reintroduce them to the area.
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Just off the trail is an unusual type of rock made of puddingstone, a sedimentary rock that is a conglomerate of small round pebbles held together by sandy cement.
The trail continued downhill and through a hardwood forest of oak and holly, a narrow strip of holly and oak that grows in moderate climates along the coast of Long Island in Massachusetts.
When I came to a crossroads, I turned left and headed south on a yellow-marked trail that flattened out and meandered through dry oak and pine forest. Soft pine needles covered the path, which was sometimes heavily rooted and covered with dense, green ferns. I crossed several low stone walls, probably built by farmers to mark property lines or create paddocks and pastures.
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At the south end of the preserve, the trail took a sharp turn west. To the left, an old farm road led to private property. Through the trees I could see a large open field with two huge mounds of gravel that will be used to develop the property as a large solar farm.
The trail skirted the southern boundary of the reservation and reached a wide grassy cleared lane for an easement for an underground gas line. There was a door on the left and behind that more fields. I walked through the easement and took the start of the red marked trail that ran along the back edge of the property.
Continuing north, the trail paralleled a rock wall before winding east through birch and sassafras, wood ferns and thick brush that in places overran the trail.
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I climbed over several downed trees and at one point scratched my forearms on thick, thorny vines that crept into the path. (A land trust representative said downed trees and large bushes were cleared after my hike.)
Stopping to rest, I pulled out a map and learned that Adamsville Creek flows west of the trail and is one of the major tributaries of the West Branch of the Westport River. The creek creates a lush corridor through the lowlands.
I also learned that Basket Swamp once lay far north of the reservation, according to maps from the mid-1800s, and that the area had many names. An 1831 map calls part of the area Hellburn Woods and others know the property as Sandywood. Over the years, part of the land has been cleared and developed and other wetlands have been filled in.
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Why is it important to preserve wetlands?
When the Tiverton Land Trust purchased the property in 2009 from Dr Joseph Bossom and Mika Seeger, local officials highlighted the significance of the wetlands and their vital importance to Tiverton.
As well as protecting biodiversity, the swamps prevent flooding by absorbing heavy rain and then retaining the water to replenish groundwater, which is important for South Tiverton’s private wells. In addition, streams from and near wetlands drain into the drinking water supplies of Nonquit Pond and the Westport River.
The wetlands also once provided a rich environment for the growth of trees and vegetation, including black ash trees, also known scientifically as fraxinus nigra.
The trees were dark, bluish-black in color and easily distinguished from the white or green ash trees. They could reach 40 to 60 feet high and 2 feet wide. Indigenous peoples called them by various names, including swamp ash, basket ash, brown ash, cinder ash, and water ash.
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Baskets and More: What Indigenous Peoples Made From Black Ash Trees
Native Americans greatly valued the unique black ash for various practical purposes. Besides their use in making baskets for collecting and carrying crops from the fields or for storing clothes, flexible wood could be separated along annual growth rings and bent permanently for barrel hoops, snowshoe frames, the canoe ribs and the material for the woven chair seats.
Black ash trees grew throughout the northeast and were harvested by several Native American tribes. Besides the Pocassets, who were part of the Wampanoag Nation, who lived in Tiverton, other basket weavers in the country included the Mohawk, Seneca, Onondaga, Cayuga, Oneida, Tuscarora, Penobscot, Micmac, Maliseet , Passamaquoddy, Anishinaabe and Abenaki.
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Black ash trees also featured in some tribal legends.
A story passed down by the Anishinaabe is about the dream of a chief named Black Elk, who left instructions to burn his body and scatter the ashes where a special tree grew so people would have wood to support themselves. of their families. by making and trading baskets.
The more I discovered about the black ash trees, the more I realized that it was a shame that they had disappeared from the area. They must have been quite a spectacle.
While thinking about this whole story, I continued on the red marked trail, which turned south and back to the easement. I hiked about 500 feet on the cleared strip of dirt before seeing a marker for the white marked trail on the left. Went back into the woods and took the uphill path back to where I parked.
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In total, the 1.5 mile loop, with a few side branches and stops, took me about 90 minutes.
The Basket Swamp Preserve is not as well known or as well traveled as the nearby Weetamoo Woods and Pardon Gray Preserve, which are also rich in history. But I enjoyed the walk and learned a lot.
Now, if I could just see a black ash tree…
Basket Swamp Preserve is open from dawn to dusk.
Visitors are asked to stay on the trails and carry what they are carrying.
Camping, fires, paintball guns, metal detectors, and removal of wood, rocks, dirt, or artifacts are not permitted in the reserve.
John Kostrzewa, former associate/corporate editor of the Providence Journal, welcomes emails at [email protected]