Great Sights at Goosewing

The Nature Conservancy and its partners have long recognized that Rhode Island’s barrier beaches, coastal ponds and expanses of maritime shrub and meadow are among the Northeast’s most valuable natural assets and some of the most biologically rich natural systems on the planet.

Goosewing Beach Preserve—a rarity among barrier beaches in our region for its pristine ecological condition —plays home to the scarce Piping Plover, which rear their young in sight of the crashing waves in camouflaged nests littered with tiny shell fragments.   Vulnerable to predators, storm surge and human footsteps, hatched plover chicks resemble white cotton balls on toothpicks before they mature.  For 22 years these fragile and charismatic birds have epitomized the plight of endangered species while gracing our shorelines and touching our hearts with their flute-like call.

Inland from Goosewing Beach is Quicksand Pond, a place where freshwater meets the sea that supports a web of migratory bird and marine life unlike anywhere else in our region.  It also safeguards a stunning diversity of aquatic and terrestrial species, including otters, kingfishers, river herring which return annually to spawn, Atlantic striped bass, blue crabs, oysters, and even seahorses.

On a coastal headland overlooking these wonders is a verdant tract of coastal meadow and shrub thicket.  Its relentless exposure to sea spray and wind ensures only the most stalwart vegetation will survive, but it is here among the berried shrubs and late season blossoms of goldenrod and aster that the fall migration of songbirds and monarch butterflies reaches its most spectacular.

(Thickets of bayberry, viburnum and grape provide food reserves needed to ensure migratory songbirds get the boost of energy they require in advance of their long fall journey southward over the sea.  Meadows of goldenrod and aster similarly provide monarch butterflies with a feast of nectar and pollen to gird their return flight to Mexico.)

The Benjamin Family Environmental Center sits atop this magnificent spot overlooking these three unique ecosystems.

The Center, built by The Nature Conservancy in 2010 following a generous donation from the Benjamin Family, is the starting point for guided walks and special events designed to educate visitors about the plants, animals and sea life at Goosewing Beach.  The Center also serves as the operating hub for the Conservancy’s shorebird protection program, which provides the tools, equipment and knowledge for helping Piping Plover and Least Tern populations recover from their near-demise only 25 years ago.

In recognition of the Conservancy’s commitment to protecting this unique coastal treasure, CNN picked Goosewing Beach Preserve as the eighth most eco-friendly beach in the world in 2010, right up there with beaches like Playa Matapalo in Costa Rica, or Whitehaven Beach, in Queensland, Australia.  Best Eco-friendly Beaches in the World, CNN Travel.

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