Salter Grove a local gem of biodiversity

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Imagine a place where you could escape from the hectic pace of modern life and breathe in the soothing saltwater mist kicked up by the incoming tide that flowed on either side of you. Perhaps you’d like to try your hand at fishing or spotting some birds, or simply taking in a healthy amount of lush greenery during a walk in a quiet wooded trail.

If such an experience seems most desired but also somewhat out of reach, you have all the reason in the world to get yourself (and your family) down to Salter Grove Memorial Park while the weather is still mild and accommodating to outdoor exploits.

In just a short span of time, through community advocacy groups such as the Friends of Salter Grove (FoSG) and through financial support from the municipal and state governments, Salter Grove has quietly transitioned from an oft-overlooked spit of land into a blossoming local gem of impressive biodiversity and natural beauty.

Recently, through the application of a $200,000 state Department of Environmental Management grant, the more than 50-year-old causeway leading to the breakwater was completely refreshed. What used to be a hazardous mess of uneven rocks, scrap metal and spots that would become completely engulfed by the incoming tide is now a uniform pathway of pristine natural stones surrounded by flourishing natural vegetation.

While fishermen cast lines into the water, Marina Wong – who is in charge of educational outreach for the FoSG – set up her large viewing scope on a tripod in order to get a better view of a flock of double-breasted cormorants that had gathered on a rock along the southern stretch of the cove that is bisected by the causeway. She noted the presence of Laughing Gulls circling above.

“It’s small but it has several distinct habitats,” Wong said of the 12-acre park during a biological tour of the area last Saturday. “You can really see a lot of animals out here.”

But you needn’t be a botanist or a biologist to fully appreciate that copious amount of wildlife, because Wong – who has 20 years of experience as a tropical biologist throughout Southeast Asia and Central and South America – has already put in much of that work for you.

Wong has been accumulating data – both from her own observations over the course of 259 hours of field research since May of this year and by combing through the established data accumulated by others, such as David Mozzoni – and has already cataloged 113 different species of plants from 49 different families, in addition to 116 species of birds from 38 families that can be found at the park.

Even during the brief walk through the park, Wong stumbled upon one of those plant species she had not seen before. She proceeded to quickly take a photograph of it and had identified it and added it to her data set before the afternoon was over. What she has amassed is a comprehensive list of things to see at Salter Grove, and when you can see them – when the birds you might want to spot are in the area, when the flowers are blooming and what they are.

Wong has spent many hours placing identification tags on various species of plants – watch out for the poison ivy – and taking note of particular specimens of note, like the Dawn Redwood tree that sits stoically off to the left of the park’s entrance. The tree was once thought to be extinct as recently as the 1940s before a Chinese botanist re-discovered it and shared its seeds.

Such facts would not be widely known without advocacy work of people like Wong, and now she and the Friends of Salter Grove want to be able to better share that amassed knowledge to try to excite people in Warwick and beyond about the pristine example of local floral and fauna that exists right in their own backyard.

“Before, these were just weeds, but now they have names,” Wong said in reference to a patch of Canada Sand-Spurry, a hardy plant that prefers the flooded sediment of the brackish coastline and is only exposed during low tides.

The group hopes to set up a comprehensive website that will be mobile phone friendly and provide information that correlates with the markers placed around the park. It would be searchable by voice and act as a one-stop-shop for walking through any area of the park and being able to identify what you’re seeing. It would also be open to uploads from the public, who could share their own observations and add to the database of wildlife.

She estimates the cost of the endeavor to be around $20,000 and as already submitted grant applications in the hopes of receiving funding. If the goal is realized, Wong sees potential for Salter Grove to become a destination for families in Warwick and beyond – especially with the anticipated completion of a brand new playground, which began construction earlier this year.

“For once, let’s embrace nature through technology,” Wong said. “This is the one time where you smart phone will help encourage you to get outside.”

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