Times of Change

While Max and I are motoring along Dixon Street on his Suzuki LS650, we notice the eye-catching canopy of trees towering above the long, weathered cement walls surrounding the historic homes near Bellevue Avenue. We are experiencing Newport’s peak summer season. We cruise along the coast and swim in the ocean by the surrounding cliffs. Rosehips, morning glories and English ivy have reclaimed stone walls. Bumblebees swarm around flower gardens. Secret ocean alcoves and the state beaches become our resting place. This is what Rhode Island’s landscape is currently offering us. We are fortunate to be part of this maritime community experiencing nautical traditions. With this natural endowment comes great responsibility to sustain the design of this legendary environment for years and generations to come.

While we admire the current effects of our climate, it is inevitable that the view will change as quickly as the seasons. Warm summer nights become the first cool evenings of fall. Soon, the leaves of the arboretum’s sugar maple, scarlet oak, birch, red maple, white oak, beech, elm or poplar trees will begin turning blazing shades of gold, naphthol red and cadmium orange. Our feet will pass over blankets of dry pine needles that are reminiscent of Rapunzel’s golden locks. The air will be crisp and ripe with the earthy smells of wood and fallen foliage. By November, sound will pierce the unobstructed air and we will be mesmerized by the starkness of this state’s natural beauty once again.

Rhode Island’s botanical heritage is no small part of its living history and visual prestige. People travel from all over the world to experience the changing foliage. Tours have become so popular, the trees can be viewed from cruise ships or kayaks, while driving the open road, walking trails within dense forest or under moonlit skies, flying overhead, or zip-lining by. There are maps and mobile applications offering guided tours and endless information to assist people trying to have an unforgettable foliage experience.

Newport is aiming to become the first city-wide arboretum in the world to reach Level III professional accreditation, but first it needs to map or plant 237 more species. The city is designing and implementing sustainable processes that may one day be modeled by communities across the globe. Learn more or get involved by visiting:

Max imagines Dixon Street without the lush of summer’s abundance, without the visual magic of these perfectly planted blooming trees and vines — some as old as 125 years. The faces of these private residences will dramatically change over the next three months, and if reforestation doesn’t happen, these private residences could change forever. Old age and disease are threatening these trees’ very existence.

In 1987, concerned citizens recognized that the once-legendary urban forest was clearly ailing, and took the initiative to develop formal planning and active regeneration efforts. Hence, the birth of the Newport Tree Society. Since the Gilded Age, collectors, scientists and amateur horticulturists planted the city with an incredible array of specimen trees, many of which were gathered by tree hunters from across the globe. Newport is returning to its roots so-to-speak. In response to the challenge of restoring an urban forest under the direct care of thousands of private citizens, the Newport Tree Society outlined a new citizen-centered model for citywide reforestation centered around The Newport Arboretum. By implementing reforestation within our own properties and replacing aging specimens, we are maintaining our community’s history and charm for future generations to enjoy.

There are also new ways to consider peeping these popular treescapes. Holden Arboretum of Cleveland Botanical Garden began a project last year, called the Emergent Tower, that takes peepers to the vertical level of their hobby ( I experienced a similar design at Kew Gardens Botanical Gardens in England. Imagine how a structure like this could benefit our state’s appeal. And why not consider building a botanical garden that improves the peeper’s experience?

I found a fantastic fall foliage drive through Rhode Island’s rural, uncrowded northern and western towns – communities with rolling meadows and dense forests interrupted by the occasional orchard, pumpkin patch or country store including points of interest like Cumberland, Greenville, Chepachet, Pulaski Memorial State Forest, Exeter, Schartner Farm, and Wickford ( ). If you prefer hiking, you may want to visit Ocean View Loop Trail at Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge in Middletown; Tilinghast Pond in West Greenwich, which spans 2000 acres; the historic hike in Wolf Hill Forest Preserve in Smithfield where there is a WWII memorial; Long Pond Woods Trail, which is more challenging for the adventurous hiker; and Neutaconkanut Hill, which offers an urban hike.

Happy peeping, all!