Galilee Bird Sanctuary

Galilee Bird Sanctuary

Narragansett, Rhode Island 02882

Tips for Birding

Located south of the Galilee Escape Road and across the street from Roger Wheeler State Beach is a 172-acre tidal wetland. This environmentally sensitive wetland habitat is ideal for bird watching. However, the area has no access except along its outer edge. No parking is available.

About this Location

The Galilee Bird Sanctuary is a 130-acre salt marsh owned by the state of Rhode Island. The sanctuary is located east of the port of Galilee and is bounded by the Galilee Escape Road to the north and Sand Hill Cove Road to the south. During the l950s, dredged material from the Port of Galilee was deposited in parts of the marsh, filling in a tidal channel and significantly altering the natural tidal action.

During Hurricane Carol in 1954, coastal flooding in the area was so severe that local residents were trapped, unable to evacuate their homes. As a result, in 1956 the state built the Galilee Escape Road, which greatly improved public safety in Galilee but caused additional harm to the salt marsh by further restricting tidal flushing. These changes transformed the marsh into a dense thicket of Phragmites with very little habitat value for birds, fish, or shellfish.

In 1991, the R.I. Department of Environmental Management (DEM), which manages the marsh as a wildlife refuge, began a project to restore the ecological productivity of the marsh by reestablishing tidal flushing. DEM’s Division of Fish and Wildlife organized a partnership of federal, state, and non-governmental agencies; developed a restoration plan; oversaw construction; and monitored the recovery of the salt marsh. The team regraded the marsh, cut new tidal channels, and installed large culverts under the Galilee Escape Road to allow the tide to return to the marsh. The culverts are outfitted with self-regulating tide gates that allow normal tides in and out of the marsh, but prevent extreme tides from flooding coastal homes.

Since the completion of construction in 1997, the ecology of the marsh has begun to return. Fish and wildlife have responded to the restoration in dramatic fashion, as finfish recolonized the tidal creeks within days following the opening of the tide gates. Waterfowl, including the American black duck, use the restored marsh extensively for nesting, feeding, and resting during migration. In total, approximately 84 acres of salt marsh habitats and 14 acres of tidal creeks and ponds were restored. Project partners included the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, DEM Mosquito Abatement, the University of Rhode Island, R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council, R.I. Department of Transportation, Ducks Unlimited, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Content from Rhode Island Coastal Access Guide and Article on the restoration of Galilee Bird Sanctuary saltmarsh