RI Walks’ Creature Challenge Gets Hikers Curious About Nature

Whimsical plant creatures inspire Rhode Islanders of all ages to hit the trail all year long


From coastal wetlands and scrub forests to deciduous woodlands interspersed with ruins from long-gone mills, hiking in Rhode Island is already the setting of diverse landscapes, but there’s an added element of whimsy hidden among many of our beloved trails, thanks to RI Walks. Like Pokémon GO but without the need for augmented reality, the program’s Creature Challenge initiative has installed steel plant-inspired critters on trees along paths for a gamified hiking experience that just might make even non-hikers discover a dormant love for exploring the great outdoors.

It makes sense that the idea for the challenge was born in 2021, when, stir crazy from staying inside, many of us sought COVID-safe refuge trekking nearby trails. “The RI Land Trust Council was looking for new ways to encourage people to get outside and explore nature all over Rhode Island and enjoy land trust trails,” says program coordinator Virginia Streeter. “We wanted to create a fun outdoor activity that could be enjoyed by all ages, especially during a time when many people were still unable to gather indoors.”

Collaborating with Greg Rebis, an artist at The Steel Yard, the creature designs are minimalist yet undeniably cute, and embody a range of plant and mushroom species native to Rhode Island, from the violet (our state flower) to tree leaves and a chanterelle. Rebis explains his aim was to “elicit a sense of wonder, surprise, and mystery. The resulting designs are whimsical characters – an anthropomorphization that dances between fantasy and reality – to appeal to the imagination and let people relate to our native flora while out in nature.”

Whether searching for or stumbling upon a creature, the experience sparks curiosity. “The council hopes that spending time on the trails will help people learn more about the natural world around them and appreciate the importance of conservation in Rhode Island,” says Streeter, who also points to the mental and physical health benefits of being outside. Because creatures are all over the state, challenge participants are likely to wind up on trails they’ve never visited before.

March, though a purgatory of a month between lingering frosts and budding crocuses, is an ideal time to get cracking on this family-friendly challenge, the lack of foliage

making it easier to spot the steel sentries. And you may be surprised by what else you encounter. A late-winter visit to Frenchtown Park and Laurel Wood in East Greenwich, for instance, not only yielded a glimpse of the Rose Hip creature along Cotton Mill Trail, but also sightings of a Pileated Woodpecker, a Great Blue Heron and Hooded Mergansers in Mill Pond, spotted wintergreen under wet leaves, and fungus- and lichen-bespotted tree trunks.

“Since all of the species represented by the creatures can be found in Rhode Island, they’re a great way to learn about plant species that you might not have even noticed before,” says Streeter. “I personally experienced this with flat branch clubmoss – a plant I’ve certainly walked by plenty of times, but which I recognized for the first time because I’d seen the clubmoss creature.”

For avid scavenger hunt enthusiasts, the thrill of the hunt may be its own reward, but this year, there’s an added perk: partnering with local businesses, RI Walks offers prizes for anyone who completes the challenge. Gift certificates for KNEAD Doughnuts, the Providence Children’s Museum, Wright’s Dairy Farm, and Rhode Island Brewers Guild members are all on the table. With 30 creatures (on 34 trails) to spot, now is the time to get hiking!


Hit the Trail

Before venturing out, visit RI Walks’ website for an interactive map of hikes with creatures. Click on your destination, and you’ll be directed to an ExploreRI link with info on how to get there, where to park, points of interest, mileage, difficulty, trail maps, and more. Make an account to track your progress, using the QR codes located on each creature. RIWalks.org/challenge.php

Eyes to the Ground

Says Streeter, “For any adult explorers, make sure you’re looking closer to the ground – the creatures are installed at a lower height so that explorers of all ages can find them!”

Where to Start

One of the most popular creatures can be found on an easy scenic trail along Ten Mile River at Hunts Mill in East Providence. Start close to home, and then venture out to new-to-you trails around the state.

Rhody Resources

For fun facts and more, follow on Instagram at @ri.walks. The RI Wild Plant Society, RI Natural History Survey, RI Woods at URI, RI Tree Council, and RI Mycological Society are all valuable resources for furthering your knowledge of the natural world and native species.



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