Tomaquag Trail, Hopkinton RI

Below is a 3-mile route (6 miles round-trip) that starts in Hopkinton, Rhode Island, then goes south into Westerly, Rhode Island. The border between the towns is the Pawcatuck River. This route will appeal to people interested in NativeAmerican stone structures.

The trail is somewhat rough, unkempt, and hilly in the middle section, but near both ends, the trail is quite flat and smooth.

The area is called “Grills Sanctuary.” Click here for Hopkinton’s map, here for Westerly’s map (Westerly gives you a choice of pdf or GoogleMaps), or here for an AllTrails map.

The northern end of the trail, where I parked, is on Chase Hill Road. Since Chase Hill Road is very near Ashaway Road, it can be a bit confusing on your first visit. But eventually you’ll find the parking lot, which is quite large. Park on the right, or center, of the lot (the left side is a farmer’s gate, the farmer doesn’t want you to block the gate). When you start walking, start on the left side of the parking lot (the right side has a trail along Tomaquag Brook, this trail goes nowhere). My route (the trail you want) is marked with white diamond trail-markers.

Soon you’ll come to a tiny stream, with a tiny stone bridge, and a rare tree called the Atlantic White Cedar (I marked the spot with a C; there’s one White Cedar just before the bridge, a second just after the bridge, both on the left side of the trail). The White Cedar is a wetland species, I mentioned it in my notes on Destruction Brook Woods.

You’ll see another White Cedar just after you cross Tomaquag Brook Bridge; it, too, is on the left side of the trail (I marked the spot with a blue pin). The Tomaquag Brook Bridge is the first major bridge on this route. The second major bridge is the Polly Coon Bridge, which crosses the Pawcatuck River, and brings you from Hopkinton to Westerly. That crossing has a large cairn, and a large inscribed stone, both of which were set up recently to illustrate the height of the water during the 2010 flood.

I consulted a Kindle book (Amazon e-book) called Walking Together in Tomaquag Valley, by Thomas Helmer. “Walk 10” in Helmer’s book is about this route. It says that, after you cross Tomaquag Brook Bridge, go “a quarter mile or so,” and then the trail starts “angling up and to the left.” You’ll see a stone wall on your left. Soon you’ll reach what Helmer calls “Watcher’s Rocks” (picture below). On my map, I marked the spot with a W.

On the left of the picture, the hillside falls off sharply. A stone row runs along the base of the hill. If you crossed the stone row and continued walking south, you’d reach the Pawcatuck River. From the Watcher’s Rocks, your view of the river is obstructed by undergrowth, but as Helmer points out, the Native Americans cleared undergrowth by burning twice a year. So a native at Watcher’s Rocks may well have been able to see the river, and observe enemy warriors paddling up-river, or observe game such as deer.

If you try to enter Watcher’s Rocks, be cautious, leaves can be slippery, and you could tumble down the hill. If you look at the right side of the picture (the north side), you’ll see a large outcrop nestled in the hillside. This is the seat of the Watcher, it has a narrow ledge at the right height for sitting. Below is the same picture, with a red line marking the approximate location of the sitting-ledge.

The ledge is probably big enough for two people. The ledge is part of a south-facing outcrop, an outcrop that would soak up warmth from the sun, then gradually release that warmth, so it would be a relatively warm place to sit.

On the left side of the picture is a wall of boulders, a wall that was set up by natives, perhaps to break the wind, perhaps to create a hunting blind, perhaps to provide concealment from enemy attackers.

If you look at the stone rows near Watcher’s Rocks, you’ll find indications of native art — manitou stones (i.e., upward-pointing stones), carefully balanced stones, stones arranged to create openings, etc.

If you stand at Watcher’s Rocks and look downhill, west is to your right. If you follow the stone row at the base of the hill toward the west for perhaps 200 yards, then look to your right, you’ll see a structure that Helmer calls Shelter Rock; it’s an enclosure with a wall, and a large, flat rock that forms a roof (picture below). I marked the spot with an S.

After you cross the Polly Coon Bridge, you can take the Blue Trail to the right or the left; either way will enable you to eventually reach Bowling Lane. On my map, I go right, but I now think left is a nicer trail, it follows the Pawcatuck River, and you may see Wood Ducks.

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There may be a Cougar effigy (and other NativeAmerican structures) at Hopkinton’s Pelloni Preserve, 2-3 miles north of Grills Preserve. Access is on Cedar Knoll Drive, near Collins Road; the trailhead is just past Bluebird Lane, and is marked on Google Maps.

Below is a route in Pelloni Preserve; the route is 1.5 miles (1.5 miles round-trip). I put an N on the North Loop Trail, which has some NativeAmerican stone-work. I put an H on the High Cliff Trail, and a C on the cougar (sometimes called the “High Cliff Cougar”).

Below is a line of rocks, some propped, on the North Loop Trail, which has yellow blazes.

Below is a curving line of rocks, probably an extension of the line above:

There are several signs in Hopkinton refuges about “Archeological Site Etiquette.” These signs are a clue that NativeAmerican stone structures are nearby. They also indicate that people in Hopkinton appreciate NativeAmerican stone-work, and want to preserve it.

When I was at Pelloni, the High Cliff Trail was marked only with orange ribbons. The High Cliff Trail takes you toward the cougar, but you’ll be at the top of the cliff, and in order to see the cougar effigy, you need to reach the base of the cliff. I suggest walking south, around the cliff, then circling back to the cougar, so you’re below the cougar. Here’s a picture of the cougar:

Below is the same picture, with an E on the eye-socket, an N on the nose, and an M on the mouth:

The above pictures show the cougar from the south (from the cougar’s right side). Below is a picture of the cougar from the other side, the north side.

Below is the same picture with a black circle around a possible eye-carving:

After looking at both sides of the cougar’s face, I would say it certainly is a cougar likeness, but it’s difficult to tell whether Native Americans enhanced what nature had made. They probably did do some carving/shaping, I would put the probability around 60%.

I felt like I was being watched, and I thought I saw coyote scat, coyotes might live in the High Cliff, near the cougar; they seem to live on the north end of the cliff, perhaps to keep away from cougar-observers, perhaps because the best caves are on the north end. The base of the cliff is a “talus slope,” i.e., it has angular boulders that broke off from the cliff and fell to the ground, so it isn’t easy walking.

Cougar info here and here. Still more cougar info, and cougar pictures, can be found in Helmer’s e-book Walking Together In Tomaquag Valley. Helmer says that an image (sculpture?) of a man is “lurking beneath” the cougar, on the underside of the cougar, but I didn’t see it.

The official map of Pelloni Preserve indicates two trailheads, one in the north, on Cedar Knoll Drive, and another in the south, on Diamond Hill Road. But when I drove along Diamond Hill Road, I saw no sign of a trailhead, and when I parked at the CedarKnoll trailhead, and hiked south, the trail ended before it reached Diamond Hill Road. It’s surprising that Hopkinton advertises trails, and maps trails, that don’t exist.

Below is a slightly longer route in Pelloni, I was attempting to reach the “south trailhead” on Diamond Hill Road. I also approached the cougar from the east; this is possible but not recommended.

Just west of the CedarKnoll trailhead, on Maxson Hill Road, is an area named “Tomaquag Indian Rock Shelters” (blue pin on the map below). These “Rock Shelters” can probably be accessed from Maxson Hill Road or from the trailhead on Cedar Knoll Drive.

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Just north of the CedarKnoll trailhead is a preserve called Kenyon Crossroads. There’s a parking lot for Kenyon Crossroads on Collins Road, which intersects with Cedar Knoll Drive. The trail enters the Hopkinton Department of Public Works (DPW) on Woodville Road (red pin on my map). I heard there was a large turtle effigy in the area, but didn’t find it. I did, however, find other NativeAmerican stone-work, such as stone rows and stone piles. There’s a side trail called Beaver Flood Trail, but it was flooded when I was there.

Below is a 2-mile route in Kenyon Crossroads (4 miles round-trip). I put a B on the Beaver Flood Trail, an L on a ledge that makes a good picnic spot, and an F near an old foundation, and a bench. There are interesting NativeAmerican stone rows near much of the route, especially on the Beaver Flood Trail, and near the ledge.

Pelloni Preserve, Kenyon Crossroads, and the trail that goes south from Chase Hill Road are all sections of a proposed “Tomaquag Trail,” which will be 9.2 miles, if it’s ever completed. It will extend from the DPW trailhead on Woodville Road, to the trailhead at the end of Bowling Lane in Westerly. Halfway through this proposed trail is the Diamond Hill Road “trailhead” that I couldn’t find. Further south on Diamond Hill Road, just before Tomaquag Brook, is another “missing trailhead,” which appears on this map. I found no trailhead, no trail, and no parking. So the 9-mile Tomaquag Trail is apparently just a legend, like the Loch Ness Monster.

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2-3 miles north of the DPW trailhead, I put a T on a trailhead and parking lot for Manitou Hassannash Preserve. The trailhead is on the right side (west side) of Lawton Foster Road North, opposite a red house. The address of the trailhead is 145 Lawton Foster Road North.

Manitou Hassannash Preserve is full of NativeAmerican stone structures, but the trails are unmarked and somewhat rough. Click here for Tom Helmer’s video tour of this preserve. James and Mary Gage wrote a book/pamphlet on this preserve; the book is called Land of a Thousand Cairns (more info at the Gages’ website).

After you park at Manitou Hassannash Preserve and walk for a minute or two, the trail forks. The right fork is the High Trail, the left fork is the Low Trail. The Low Trail goes straight ahead. After you’ve walked 1/8 or 1/4 mile on the Low Trail, you can turn left (southwest, downhill, toward Canonchet Brook), and reach The Wander Zone, an area particularly dense with cairns. But there are so many cairns all over this preserve, that you may be sated before you reach The Wander Zone. This preserve is small (14 acres?), and the trails aren’t on AllTrails, or the website of the Hopkinton Land Trust.

If you take the High Trail, you’ll be going northward and uphill. You’ll see Brightman Cemetery, a small, historic cemetery (I marked it with a yellow pin). Helmer says there’s a stone wall near the cemetery, a wall built by white farmers, then modified by natives; the natives added a snake head at the end of the wall, turning it into a “snake wall.”

Helmer says there were mills on Canonchet Brook, perhaps mill-remains are still visible. Helmer also says that the millers made roads in the area, roads that are still faintly visible.