PORTSMOUTH — Our good friend Tom Willett, a local resident, turned us on to this sweet little walk through Oakland Forest. The preserved, 20-acre sanctuary on Aquidneck Island, just minutes from bustling downtown Newport, was a former Vanderbilt-owned estate. Remnants of the picturesque summer farm, including the signature Vanderbilt gates and towering rhododendron hedges that once lined a carriage road, can still be seen. But the real draw is the old-growth forest, including a rare stand of 200- to 300-year-old American beech trees.
If you looked at an aerial map of the area, you’d see the small green patch of the forest surrounded by development; condos and houses crowd its edge and fan out from the preserve. The forest was on its way to being cleared, too, needed as a septic field for more condo development, until local arborist Matt Largesse announced that some of the trees on the site were centuries old and should be saved.