“I’m surprised I don’t see more plein air painters out here,” says Tim Cranston, as he strolls a pebbled trail through the Bush Hill Nature Reserve.
And he’s right: The salt marsh is sunny and scenic, ringed with walls of woods. The trail cuts across moist grassland, a raised earthen causeway. Tim points out some bayberries, once used for candle-making. Nearby, a snowy egret stretches its wings and rises from the tufts.
“We want to make Wickford walkable,” says Tim, who is widely considered the town’s “unofficial historian.” “For a village to truly be a village, in my mind, it needs to have people on the street, interacting as a community. And having locations like this, where the community of Wickford can get out in nature, is really what makes this place a special village.”
Scenery aside, Bush Hill is saturated in history. Overlapping with Mill Cove, this land was once the sprawling Spink farm, which raised crops for Wickford townsfolk. Look closely, and you’ll find the ruins of a World War II bomb shelter, a handful of colonial gravestones, and the borrow pit dug to build the causeway. The de Guzman family donated the property to the Land Conservancy of North Kingstown, in memory of beloved local Adelaide Dawson Lynch. Since then, it’s been a public reserve, open to hikers, wildlife, and – in theory – plein air painters.
But many residents want to enrich this land, and local organizations are clamoring to add improvements. These touches will be light, such as markers, illustrated by local artists, that point out historical landmarks. The causeway currently has a significant gap, and the new Mill Cove footbridge will smoothly connect one part of town to the other.
“In a 15- or 20-minute walk,” says Tim, “you’re going to be able to span centuries of history here. You’re going to see how this piece of property was an integral part of the overall fabric of the community.”
Last month, the Land Conservancy hosted a benefit to raise the $65,000 required to build the bridge. The Conservancy works closely with Historic Wickford, also known as HistWick, which runs walking tours, among other activities.
“In this day and age, so many people don’t have that opportunity to connect to the place that they live,” says Tim, whose ancestors arrived in Wickford in 1630. “This is a groundswell of local people doing this. You can’t ask for a better project.”