Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge
is home to Rhode Island
's largest salt pond
, created by glacial runoff approximately 14,000 years ago. Today it is a natural sand plain grassland, alive with many species of plant and animal life, including the threatened piping plover
. The refuge was created to protect this rare ecosystem. The refuge is connected to a public town park in Charlestown, RI
, slightly fewer than 45 miles South of Providence
, on the Southern coast of the state.
70 of the over 900 acres on which the refuge is located was formerly a U.S. Naval Auxiliary landing field during World War II, and the remnants of the air field and other structures are apparent in entranceway to the refuge. The land has been restored, though some of the asphault and concrete remains as a parking lot area.
The Ninigret refuge is visited by over 250 bird species, of which over 70 species nest in the refuge. Spring is marked by the return of Osprey, Woodcocks, White-eyed Vireo, Wood thrush, Bluebirds and other songbirds, shorebirds and waterfowl. Summertime brings native wildflowers including partridge pea and tickseed. In autumn, from mid-September to mid-November, hawk migration is at its peak for observance. Butterfly migration is also best watched in mid-September.
Many bird species winter in the refuge, including Mergansers and black ducks.
The pond itself houses blue crab, bay scallop, quahog and winter flounder in addition to the water birds.
The refuge offers two one-mile walking trails through the sand plain, with observation platforms overlooking Foster Cove and Ninigret Pond. Since the refuge is adjacent to the large, public and unprotected Ninigret Park, there is space for picnics, frisbee, etc, as well as a small freshwater pond suitable for swimming in warm weather and ice-skating in winter. The Park is home to the Rhode Island Rhythm and Roots Festival, generally held on Labor Day weekend, the one time of the year that the area is open for camping.