Northeast Coastal Areas Study
Significant Coastal Habitats
Site 29 (RI)
I. SITE NAME: Chapman Swamp/Pawcatuck River
II. LOCATION: Chapman Swamp, also known as Crandall Swamp, part of the Pawcatuck River drainage, is located east of the Town of Westerly, in southwestern Rhode Island.
STATE: Rhode Island
USGS 7.5 MIN QUADS: Watch Hill, RI-Conn 41071-37; Kingston, RI 41071-45; Carolina, RI 41071-46; Ashaway, RI-Conn 41071-47; Slocum, RI 41071-55; Hope Valley, RI 41071-56; Voluntown, Conn-RI 41071-57
USGS 30x60 MIN QUAD: Block Island 41071-A1
III. BOUNDARY DESCRIPTION: The boundary of Chapman Swamp is outlined on the accompanying map, and also includes portions of the Pawcatuck River, particularly those river reaches of significance to anadromous fish passage and restoration, and Phantom Bog. Chapman Swamp is bordered on the north by the Pawcatuck River, on the south by Route 1 and on the west by Route 78. The Pawcatuck River drainage basin is nearly 25 miles (40 km) long from north to south and 24 miles (39 km) wide from east to west. Phantom Bog is located just northeast of the Village of Bradford.
IV. OWNERSHIP/PROTECTED STATUS: Chapman Swamp is predominantly in private ownership, with a few small parcels owned by the Audubon Society of Rhode Island and State Fish and Wildlife. Phantom Bog is privately owned.
V. GENERAL HABITAT DESCRIPTION: Chapman Swamp is a major wetland complex dominated by Atlantic white cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides) and red maple (Acer rubrum) swamps but also containing a number of marsh, bog and open water habitats. Wetland vegetation includes pitcher plants (Sarracenia purpurea), arrowhead (Sagittaria spp.), pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata), bladderwort (Utricularia spp.), water lilies (Nymphaea spp.), leatherleaf (Chamaedaphne calyculata), sweet gale (Myrica gale), blueberry (Vaccinium spp.) and rhododendron (Rhododendron spp.). The majority of this area is wilderness in character and is almost impenetrable in some areas. The Pawcatuck River is mostly a meandering river system with a mainstem length, from Worden Pond to Little Narragansett Bay, of 31 miles (50 km). The major tributaries are the Wood, Queen-Usquepaug and Chepuxet Rivers. Principal resident fish populations include brown trout (Salmo trutta), brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis), chain pickerel (Esox niger), common shiner (Notropis cornutus) and smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieni).
VI. SIGNIFICANCE/UNIQUENESS OF AREA: Chapman Swamp is one of the largest freshwater wetlands in Rhode Island, about 2,000 acres (810 ha) in size, and contains one of the most extensive stands of Atlantic white cedar in the State, along with a great diversity of wetland vegetation. It is also important as a groundwater resource and flood control area for the Pawcatuck River into which it flows. A variety of mammals, amphibians, waterfowl and other waterbirds frequently utilize this pond and swamp complex including several rare species. Bird species nesting here include osprey (Pandion haliaetus), wood duck (Aix sponsa), mallard (Anas platyrhynchos), American black duck (Anas rubripes), Canada goose (Branta canadensis), bitterns, herons, great horned owl (Bubo virginianus) and turkey vulture (Cathartes aura). The osprey population is of special significance because this is the only area in the State where osprey nests occur in naturally existing situations. From a botanical standpoint, this area is also of considerable interest for its rare or local bog plant species.
Historically, the Pawcatuck River has been of regional importance to anadromous fisheries, particularly for Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) and American shad (Alosa sapidissima), and in recent years there has been considerable restoration activity focused on these fisheries in this river. Other anadromous fish occurring in this system include alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus), rainbow smelt (Osmerus mordax) and sea-run brown trout, as does American eel (Anguilla rostrata), a catadromous species. Phantom Bog, a shallow, peaty bog and pond complex with floating sphagnum moss islands, is located along the north shore of the Pawcatuck River, just northeast of Bradford, and is the site of several rare species and communities of special emphasis or concern in the region. These include Barrens buckmoth (Hemileuca maia), Barrens bluet damselfly (Enallagma recurvatum), inundated horned-rush (Rhynchospora inundata), and Torrey's beak-rush (Rhynchospora torreyana). The bog is surrounded by high-quality examples of pitch pine (Pinus rigida) - scrub oak (Quercus ilicifolia) barrens.
VII. THREATS: The area surrounding Chapman Swamp is developed, with major highways (Route 1 and 78) bordering the swamp on the south and west and the Westerly State Airport site adjacent to the southwest corner. Within the swamp itself there are only two roadways, the Westerly-Bradford Road in the north and Pound Road which runs through the central section. What little development exists in the swamp itself occurs along these roadways. The greatest threat to this area, therefore, is encroachment along its edges. Concerns have been expressed about impacts to the hydrology of this area from shoreline development around the pond, and also possible contamination from an adjacent landfill site. These wetlands are regulated under the State Freshwater Wetlands law and Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.
VIII. CONSERVATION CONSIDERATIONS: The Pawcatuck River and associated wetlands should continue to be monitored and protected under pertinent environmental regulations to ensure the long-term protection and maintenance of the highest levels of water and habitat quality for fish and wildlife and the continuance of compatible human usage of these areas. Protection of Chapman Swamp and Phantom Bog, both of which are privately owned, should be sought through a variety of mechanisms, including zoning and planning regulations, rigorous enforcement of existing environmental statutes and regulations, cooperative conservation agreements, land exchanges and acquisition. As one of the State's largest freshwater swamps and the last remaining large parcel of open space in the Town of Westerly, Chapman Swamp should be considered for acquisition and management as a Federal or State Wildlife Refuge.
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