Fall Service in the City by The Sea, Newport, Rhode Island

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14300A, Service/ Volunteer


  • Restore habitat for native New England cottontails
  • Explore historic Newport
  • Enjoy New England in the fall


  • All meals, including lobster dinner
  • Six nights lodging at Paradise Farmhouse
  • Tours of Newport mansions and historic sites


DatesSep 15–21, 2014
StaffMary Alice Smith

Trip Overview

The Trip

Combine work with play on your vacation at Paradise Farmhouse in coastal Rhode Island.  Located just outside historic Newport, our eco-lodge offers panoramic views of Rhode Island Sound and nearby beaches. Rewarding volunteer projects at the scenic Norman Bird Sanctuary will highlight our days, leaving ample time to explore Newport’s mansions and historic sites and to enjoy the glories of the New England fall.

Newport is a city of many delights. Its deep protected harbor and steady winds have made it a mecca for sailors. Its temperate summer climate has attracted vacationers since the 1800s. With architecture ranging from colonial homes to Gilded Age mansions, it boasts of more houses on the National Register of Historic Places than any other city in the country. Known for its role in the nation’s founding, Newport features Rochambeau’s headquarters during the Revolutionary War. On beginning his service as our first president, Washington wrote to the members of Touro Synagogue, the oldest standing synagogue in the country, assuring them of religious freedom. The Cliff Walk stretches 3.5 miles behind the mansions of Bellevue Avenue overlooking the sea.

The Norman Bird Sanctuary, once a working farm as well as artist retreat, became a sanctuary for birds and wildlife in 1949 through the bequest of Mabel Norman Cerio. The 325-acre property now includes over seven miles of trails. Hikers are treated to diverse habitats and scenic overlooks. Trails wind through open grassy fields, forests, and a freshwater pond and range from beachfront to rocky glacial ridges. Hanging Rock, a cliff with spectacular ocean views, has been a magnet for hikers and artists since the mid-1800s.

The Project

The Norman Bird Sanctuary is partnering with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services in restoring habitat for the New England cottontail, whose population is declining so rapidly that it is a candidate for protection under the Endangered Species Act. It is already listed as endangered in Maine and New Hampshire. The New England cottontail was the only native rabbit species east of the Hudson River until the non-native eastern cottontail was introduced in the late 1800s. This shy bunny has now almost disappeared from 86 percent of its former range, and the eastern cottontail, far more abundant, is competing for resources. Suitable habitat has been lost to development, degraded by invasive plants or matured into forests. The New England cottontail requires successional forests with thickets (patches of thick, low-growing shrubs and briars) where it can hide from predators.

Numerous other species that depend upon thickets are declining throughout New England as well. They include many birds, such as eastern towhee, American woodcock, blue-winged warbler, golden-winged warbler, ruffed grouse, whip-poor-will, yellow-breasted chat, brown thrasher, prairie warbler, and indigo bunting. Management actions for the New England cottontail will benefit other shrub-land dependent wildlife of conservation concern.

We will be working with the property manager of the Norman Bird Sanctuary to help restore habitat for the New England cottontail. We will carry out projects that are most needed at the time of our visit. Other assignments may include assisting with restoration of native plants, removal of invasives, and management of the property for birds.

The Norman Bird Sanctuary is also working to restore open fields to attract grassland birds, which are declining in numbers because of habitat loss.


We will meet at Paradise Farmhouse on the afternoon of Monday, September 15. Specific directions will be sent. Dinner on Monday night will be our first meal together. We’ll get acquainted and review our schedule for the week.

We will work a total of four days, Tuesday through Friday, with Saturday off so you can explore the area on your own. Our work days will be partial, allowing plenty of time after work to visit the Newport mansions, walk the Cliff Walk, take a harbor tour by boat, and visit Touro Synagogue. Other possible activities include hiking the trails of the Norman Bird Sanctuary, bird-watching, biking, wine tasting at local wineries, visiting the farmer’s market and local farms, or touring local rum distillaries. There is always a festival of some kind going on in Newport! We will prepare a New England lobster dinner on the grounds of the sanctuary. The trip will end after breakfast on Sunday, September 21, our last day.



Getting There

Newport is readily accessible by car, bus, and train. Major airlines fly into nearby Providence, RI with shuttle service available to Newport. Amtrak trains run to nearby Kingston and Wickford, RI.

Accommodations and Food

Our accommodations will be in the newly renovated Paradise Farmhouse, now an eco-lodge and retreat center. The 18th-century farmhouse, formerly the home of Mabel Norman Cerio, overlooks stone-walled fields with stunning views of Rhode Island Sound. Our quarters feature comfortable, spacious, and quiet rooms with two or three twin beds each, all with adjoining private bathrooms. There is one bunk room available, which we can use, depending upon the final makeup of our group.

We will have many fresh local foods and a varied menu, offering both vegetarian and non-vegetarian selections. Please be aware that we prepare meals for a group and cannot accommodate individual preferences and special diets. If you require a special diet or foods, please plan to bring food. You will have access to the kitchen to prepare your own meals. Everyone will help cook and clean up at least one day of the trip. The Paradise Farmhouse has a fully equipped kitchen, and all meals (except packed lunches and a lobster dinner on the grounds) will be served in the farmhouse.

Trip Difficulty

Work projects may vary from light-duty to strenuous. Each participant will work at his or her own pace and endurance level. We expect to work mostly half days with plenty of time to explore Newport's mansions and scenic attractions. Most group activities will be at an easy to moderate level.

Equipment and Clothing

Early fall weather is usually ideal in Newport, with low humidity and daytime temperatures in the low 70s, but be prepared for warm to quite chilly temperatures. Bring clothing you can layer on or off when the temperature or exercise level changes. Rain gear is essential, as we will work in light to moderate rain (but not in storms or high winds). Poison ivy is common, so protective clothing is advisable. A detailed packing list will be provided before the trip. Please bring your own work gloves and any personal equipment you prefer using, such as loppers or pruning shears. 




  • Wharton, E., The Age of Innocence.
  • Philbrick, N., Mayflower.
  • Wilder, T., Theophilus North.


The landscape of New England is changing as more residential development takes place in formerly agricultural areas. Land management practices are changing as well with former pastureland returning to forest in many parts of New England. As forests mature, the shrubby undergrowth dies out, which means there is a loss of habitat for the New England cottontail. Invasive plants also play a role in crowding out the native plants that this native rabbit requires.

Given the New England cottontail's capacity to reproduce, habitat restoration can provide immediate conservation benefits.

We will learn about the work the Norman Bird Sanctuary is doing in conjunction with federal, state, and local agencies to restore habitat for bird and other wildlife species that are in decline. We will learn how to sustain conservation efforts over time to ensure survival of species suffering habitat loss.

While working on Norman Bird Sanctuary projects and during the rest of our stay, we will follow Leave No Trace protocols.

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.
While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.



Mary Alice Smith joined the Sierra Club in 2002, following a trip to Yosemite National Park. Since becoming a Sierra Club national leader in 2009, she has led trips to Boston, Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard. Favorite activities include hiking in her home state of Rhode Island, birding, biking, kayaking, yoga and going to live folk and roots concerts.


Sandy Raviv has participated in or led Sierra Outings to a number of eastern coastal locations including Acadia National Park (ME), Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod (MA), the Maryland Eastern Shore, the Outer Banks (NC), Cumberland Island (GA) and the Florida Everglades. She lives in Warwick, NY where she pursues genealogy in the winter months and gardening in the summer.

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