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Places We Protect

John Whitehead Preserve at Dundery Brook

Rhode Island

Pink joe-pye-weed flowers grow tall at the edge of a small pond, ringed by trees and reflecting the blue summer sky.
John C. Whitehead Preserve An easy, winding path circles three ponds and crosses a stone bridge before connecting with a fully accessible boardwalk trail. © Tim Mooney/TNC

A magical hideaway of meadow, thicket, woodland and water.

Overview

Description

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT

The Whitehead Preserve is like no other place in Rhode Island. Careful, historic plantings of native shrubs and wildflowers host a multitude of birds, bees and butterflies. An easy, winding path circles three farm ponds surrounded by woods and open meadows. 

The preserve also includes the Dundery Brook Trail, a fully accessible boardwalk. Built by TNC in 2012, this trail is particularly suitable for younger children and anyone with limited mobility. Forested wetlands, swamps, old fields support a changing variety of wildlife throughout the year, so this trail is well worth getting to know.

Dogs are not permitted at the Whitehead Preserve, due to the sensitive ecology of its wetlands and the confined space along the boardwalk trail. 

WHY THE CONSERVANCY SELECTED THIS SITE

TNC has been working to protect the former "Bumblebee Farm" since 2001. It is important for conservation as part of a larger area of coastal farms and forest that support rare plant communities along Dundery Brook. It also supplies clean freshwater to the coastal lagoon ecosystem downstream at Briggs Marsh in Little Compton.  Briggs Marsh is important in its own right for its rare shorebirds, wading birds, and resident and migratory ducks.

WHAT THE CONSERVANCY HAS DONE/IS DOING

In 2019, TNC purchased an additional 33 acres of the former Bumblebee Farm, on the north side of the preserve. TNC continues to work with local landowners and partners to conserve land in the Briggs Marsh watershed, focused on limiting development and maintaining the supply of clean freshwater.

The Dundery Brook Trail is constructed of native black locust and designed to withstand seasonal flooding in a forested wetland. The boardwalk provides an outdoor classroom for schoolchildren, including groups from the Little Peeps Montessori Naturskola in Little Compton. 

Access

OPEN TO THE PUBLIC

Hours

Open year-round during daylight hours

Highlights

ADA-accessible boardwalk, hiking, birdwatching, wildflowers

Size

170 acres

Explore our work in Rhode Island

Trails

The main trailhead for the Whitehead Preserve is located on West Main Road (Route 77) in Little Compton. Sturdy hiking boots are recommended, as the grassy paths through the fields can be seasonally wet or muddy. For direct access to the Dundery Brook Trail boardwalk, park at Veteran's Field and look for the dedicated trailhead, just past the tennis courts. 

Hope's Path (0.7 miles) connects the main trailhead to the Dundery Brook Trail, circling three small farm ponds. Each one is unique, and best enjoyed at a leisurely pace. 

The Dundery Brook Trail (0.6 miles) meanders south from Hope's Path, providing views of the swamp's hidden treasures, with occasional benches for rest stops. 

Blanche's Path (0.6 miles) is a grassy cart path that follows the edge of Bumblebee Pond and leads into a historic meadowland that is great for birdwatching. 

What to See: Plants

The Whitehead Preserve was established by TNC, in part, because of its undisturbed, highly-diverse forest community. Great oaks, beeches and tupelos dominate its interior, and red maple swamps and areas of shrub create bordering wetland areas.  American holly is abundant in areas. Signature wetland plants include skunk cabbage, jack in the pulpit, and cattails. 

What to See: Birds

More than 60 bird species use the preserve as breeding habitat, including warblers, vireos, hawks and owls, and wood ducks. The boardwalk provides an excellent vantage point for viewing American redstarts, common yellowthroats and blue-winged warblers in May. In summer, look for green herons around Bumblebee Pond, on Blanche's Path. In cooler seasons, one can find American woodcocks, great horned owls and American black ducks. 

What to See:  Animals

Spring peepers, wood frogs, green frogs and gray tree frogs are abundant and heard chorusing following spring rains. Look for snapping turtles in the brook.  White-tailed deer, coyote, fox and raccoon are present year-round.  

We hope you enjoy visiting our preserves in any season. We ask that you please observe the following guidelines:

  • Stay on the boardwalk and marked walking trails.
  • Respect preserve open hours (one hour before sunrise to one hour after sunset). Overnight camping is not allowed.
  • Do not ride horses, bikes or any motorized vehicle through the preserve or on the trails.
  • Do not disturb bird nesting areas. Between April 15 and September 1, nesting areas may be off-limits to visitors. People or dogs can easily destroy a nest with one misstep.
  • The preserve is not suitable for hunting, fishing, or trapping or use or possession of firearms.
  • Leave your pets at home, for the safety of the fragile ecology of this preserve and as a courtesy to other visitors.
  • Do not remove any living materials from the preserve or disturb any vegetation.
  • Remove any trash you create and, if possible, any garbage that you see left by someone else.
  • When visiting in the spring, summer and fall, dress in long pants and socks to avoid deer ticks, especially if you plan to explore the grassy paths beyond the end of the boardwalk. After any walk on a preserve, it is a good idea to check for ticks when you return home.
  • Be careful! Your safety is your responsibility.

Thank you for your help!