Wild Blueberries in Rhode Island?
Arcadia Wildlife Management Area in Exeter, RI. I've been on several hikes throughout the WMA this spring and have seem a plethora of patches; I'm eagerly waiting for July to roll around. The area I saw the most are around the Midway trail, which intersects a large, open, field, and connects two parking areas. The easiest way to get there is rt.3 to 165, then take the right about 3 miles past the sign to Camp E-Hun Tee on the right. Once off 165, the parking area for Midway Trail is straight down the dirt road, about 1/4 mile, over two wood bridges. Once you park, walk past the Midway Tail sign about another 1/8 mile and you'll be in the middle of one of the open areas. Veer to the right and start exploring the wooded trails and you're apt to see several patches. Good luck.
You are in luck. This is turning out to be a very good season for wild swamp blueberries in Rhode Island.
You will have to enjoy getting off-road and personal with Mother Nature, though. You can't mind sweat and you can't mind bugs and thrashing around in the brush.
I could tell you where I find them but experienced blueberry fanatics---like good fishermen---don't broadcast their secret spots. You'll have to find your own, but doing so is the type of small adventure that is really a lot of fun. If you do find a real good spot, you'll find it at least mildly stunning. Here's a way to do it: find the beavers and you'll find the berries.
Get a map of RI with the State wildlife management areas outlined that also shows roads, brooks and swamps. If you can call up topo maps of these places on line, all the better, but you should with a statewide paper map to do your initial scanning.
You are looking for three things: first, wildlife "impoundments"---marshes that the state has created by damning brooks. They are not labeled but you you can spot them by shape or by color. By shape you find a brook that has a linear-shaped pond with a straight-line dam shape at the downstream end. Double check the same on a topo map and see if this pond is indicated. The topo maps were done long ago by the Feds, and what they do when a new impoundment has been made since the last official Federal iteration is that they indicate the new impoundment with crosshatching. When you locate one of these small, cross-hatched bodies of water along a brook in a management area, put it in the priority number one category for a field check. What's happened in these little "duck marshes", as we Swamp Yankees have come to call them, is that the beavers have come back and have enhanced the blueberry growth along the edges of these ponds by a mega-factor. The blueberries grow right on the edge of the water. You'll find blueberries lining the banks of every brook and pond in Rhode Island, but very few of them produce many berries. To be productive so that you are picking the berries by the handfull instead of by ones and two's, the bushes need a lot of light. This is where the beavers come in. The beavers don't like blueberry wood. Instead, they chew down everything else around the blueberries, leaving them in the sunlight. This makes them produce berries big, big-time.
So find those man-made "duck marshes" first. If the management area is attached to a state recreation site---a pond with a beach---see if you can find a full-time DEM employee, a real game-warden type, and ask him/her where you might find these marshes. But with a map on your own you can still get the job done.
The second thing you do is make simple note on your map wherever brooks cross roads in the management areas. Plan your trip to check out a "duck marsh" but along the way try this simple trick---where a brook crosses the road, get out and look upstream or down. Very often this is where the beavers build their dams. When you find a beaver pond, get out and walk along the shoreline. If it's recently built, you might not find much. But if you are lucky you'll find a pond that's been abandonned, the dam broken, and the pond bottom reverting back to grassy meadow. Here the berry bushes have had several years of inhanced sunshine to really develop productively. I have three whooper sites in my neck of the woods and one of them is just such a "beaver meadow."
The main thing to remember in this mapwork is to think about beavers. They will live in already established ponds so long as there is some flow through the pond. And they will create their own ponds on any king of moving water. You won't find them in natural swamps. These natural swamps indicated on your maps will often indeed be full of blueberry bushes, but because there are no beavers present, they won't be very productive because of all the sun-light choking growth around and above them. Besides, such swamps are hell to slog through.
Just remember the first principal: follow the beavers. They are New England's original blueberry farmers.
And if you haven't taste-tested highbush swampberries against the cultivated varieties you get when you pay-to-pick, you don't know what you are missing! They are sweet, spicy and with a spritz of acidity that makes them marvelous. You can make delicious pies from these berries without adding any sugar or spice. They are wonderful! And FREE! You just gotta' put in the sweat equity.
The RI season starts right now, 3rd week of July, and peaks over the next three weeks. The season usually finishes by the end of week three in August, though sometimes they hang on a little longer. Like I said, this is a very good year. Please post if you try it and have some luck.