2006 photo courtesy of onne van der wal

about rose island

the whole island is about 18.5 acres and has only two lots. the lighthouse sits on the smaller of the two which contains 1.5 acres and is owned by city of newport. the rest of the island (about 17 acres) was acquired by the rose island lighthouse foundation (june 25, 1999) and it has not been made accessible to visitors because it is still very unsafe. 

historical use:
rose island was used during world wars i and ii as part of the navy torpedo station where explosives were stored.  after world war ii this use ceased and the island (except for the lighthouse) was declared surplus by the government.  since then, over the last 50 years, mother nature has been slowly creeping back, taking possession. today, the only inhabitants of the torpedo station are three species of snakes, plus thousands of nesting birds that are protected by the state. there are no mammals -- therefore, no ticks!   the lighthouse was operated until 1970, when it was abandoned and vandalized after the pell (newport) bridge was built.  the rose island lighthouse foundation was organized in 1984 to restore and operate the lighthouse on behalf of the city of newport which received it from the us government at no cost.

public access:
the foundation keeps the lighthouse property open year round from 10 am to 4 pm -- but it's not so easy to get there except during the summer months when the jamestown ferry operates on a scheduled daily basis.  all other times of the year the lighthouse foundation's boat takes overnighters and volunteers to the lighthouse aboard "starfish" (our new 32-foot jarvis newman lobster boat). school and group tours are offered by appointment from april through october. individual public tours are limited to july and august when the ferry runs daily and our guides are on site.

walking around the island is prohibited during nesting season which is from april 1 - august 15.  outside of those dates, people may walk around the entire island, but you must stay on the beaches. as you walk around the island or view it from a boat on the water, you will see the dilapidated, buildings from world wars i and ii, which were used to store explosives. many of them are in danger of collapsing and it is very unsafe to explore in or even around them. remember: this is private property owned by the foundation which is required to protect it according to our deeded conservation easement. do not trespass.

people staying overnight at the lighthouse may paddle the foundation's kayak around the island or take binoculars up into the tower to see what’s happening, but from april 1 to august 15, rose island is strictly for the birds!  in the winter, from late october to early april, you can often see harbor seals on the east side of the island at citing rock, which in the warmer months is surrounded by extensive underwater eelgrass beds.

remember these dates: between april 1 and august 15 access to the wildlife refuge is restricted. during this period no one (not even the keepers) may walk around the island or drag their boats up onto the beaches, except at the lighthouse landing.

for more information see our management plan below.

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the following is our management plan, which was initially approved in june, 1999.   watch for periodic updates as our plans progress.

management plan for rose island
narragansett bay, newport, ri

1. overview

rose island lies in the middle of lower narragansett bay, just below and south of the newport (pell) bridge.  the island's 18.5 acres are divided into two lots.  the city of newport owns the smaller of the two lots, which contains approximately 1.5 acres on the southwest corner of the island and includes the lighthouse.  this site has been managed since 1984 on behalf of the city of newport by the rose island lighthouse foundation, inc., a non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation organized in 1984 under the laws of the state of rhode island.

initially, the foundation's main focus was to restore the badly vandalized lighthouse � a labor-intensive feat that was accomplished in the early 1990s.  since relighting the beacon in 1993 and putting the light station back on the charts, the foundation has successfully maintained and managed the historic property as a self-sustaining environmental education center and "living museum".  subsequently, the foundation expanded its mission to reflect its broader interest in preserving the whole island.  it's mission provides the vision for this management plan as follows:  to preserve the historic and environmental integrity of rose island, to maintain and operate it's lighthouse, and to provide education and public access for all people.

the larger parcel on rose island (lot 1, approximately 17.42 acres) that is the subject of this management plan, was acquired by the rose island lighthouse foundation on june 25, 1999.  funding for the purchase was provided from the state's open space bond funding and land acquisition fund, plus private funding from the alletta morris mcbean charitable trust and the prince charitable trusts.

the rationale for acquisition of the balance of the uninhabited island was supported by four distinct factors.  first, the island has become an important habitat, primarily for migratory marine birds.  second, the island's military history from the colonial era until world war ii is evident in a rich array of sites.  third, the island provides a unique educational resource within the heart of our urban shore.  finally, just as the restored lighthouse beacon provides a sense of hope and linkage to our past, the preservation of the island in its natural state would convey the message that some places simply should be set aside for all to enjoy � either through an island visit, or simply knowing that it is being cared for properly.

each of these factors will be explored in detail in this and subsequent addenda to this management plan.

2.     property description

2.1. location
rose island is located at 41o 29' 46.4" n. latitude, and 71o 20' 29.2" w. longitude in lower narragansett bay, approximately midway between the shores of newport and jamestown and just south of the claiborne pell (newport) bridge.  (see the location map and chart attached as exhibits 1 and 2, respectively.)

2.2.   size of parcel
lot 1 is approximately 17.42 acres of land.  tidal flats on the north end are all that remain of a long grassy spit that once made the whole island 23 acres or more.  most of that end was washed away by storms at the end of the 19th century, the last of which was the portland gale of 1898.  deteriorating sea walls have protected much of the north and east shores from erosion since world war i.  (see december 1942 naval torpedo station map attached - exhibit 3.)

2.3.   topography
rose island's topography is rolling with large areas of exposed and near-surface bedrock, coastal wetlands and low-lying coastal terrain.  as much as 25% is comprised of storm flooded wetlands.  all but a small portion lies within flood hazard zones.  (see topographical map attached - exhibit 4.)

2.4.   zoning
waterfront business (wb).  the island is also included in newport's historic district zone (hdz).  the parcel which is the subject of this management plan is identified as lot 1 on the city assessor�s plat 45.  (see plat map attached - exhibit 5.)


3.     management responsibility

the rose island lighthouse foundation, inc. (hereinafter called "the foundation" or "rilf") is a non-profit, tax-exempt, 501(c)(3) organization that is incorporated in the state of rhode island.  it was originally formed for the purpose of restoring, maintaining and operating the rose island lighthouse property on behalf of the city of newport. 

throughout its existence, the foundation has demonstrated its capability and commitment to managing and preserving all of rose island in an environmentally sensitive, sustainable manner, while providing responsible public access and education through innovative programs.

the foundation's board of directors is comprised of twelve energetic and dedicated people with expertise in business management, finance, insurance, education, public relations, architecture, maritime activities and the environment.  it employs a full-time executive director, a part-time office manager, a part-time education coordinator and various other contractors as needed.  it enjoys the support and involvement of approximately 1200 members who live across the country with slightly more than half living nearby in newport county.

in addition to the foundation's in-house resources, specific management activities may require the advice of people in the fields of historical preservation, botany, wildlife management, soil science, etc.  because of its location and low-lying nature, before any changes could be made to either the historical or natural resources on rose island, it would be necessary to initiate a critical review process involving the following participants:

rhode island department of environmental management (ri dem) natural heritage division review for impacts to the various wildlife and plant habitats;

in addition to the above, the foundation can confidently look to its newly expanded board of advisors who have working relationships with a variety of marine-oriented historic, educational, and environmental organizations including, but not limited to, the following:

audubon society of ri
dem fish & wildlife
fort adams trust
friends of the waterfront
international yacht restoration school
maritime preservation alliance
mystic marinelife aquarium
newport harbormaster
newport historical society
newport public schools
pokanoket indian tribe
preservation society of newport county
ri marine archaeology project
sail newport
save the bay
uri graduate school of oceanography
uri office of marine programs
us fish & wildlife

4.     general management objectives

to consult and work with advisors, including dem's natural heritage program and the ri historical preservation & heritage commission to:

a)      make rose island safe for public use.

b)      preserve and, where possible, improve as much natural habitat as possible.

c)      preserve the historical integrity of rose island, and to protect the context within which the lighthouse and fort hamilton were conceived and functioned.

d)      educate the public.

e)      balance responsible public access with all of the above.


5.     property use

this natural, historic property shall be used primarily for a wildlife refuge, with access to the most significant historic structures on the south and west sides of the island.  passive recreation and educational activities are encouraged, but only insofar as they do not adversely impact the island's primary purpose as a wildlife refuge.


6.     unique concerns

6.1.   public access
rose island is not accessible by car.  it can be reached only by boat.  there is a small public landing in shallow water on the south side of the island on the lighthouse property.  to protect the nesting birds, the crmc initially required rilf to limit public access to the lighthouse property from april 1 to july 15. as the foundation developed it�s education programs and purchased the rest of the island, this restriction was modified (see section 7.4)  signs are posted both on the beaches and about 50-100 feet offshore in the water near the tnt filling station on the se corner of the island to advise kayakers and people in small boats not to land on those beaches, but rather at the lighthouse, so as not to disturb the nesting birds.

6.2.   self-sustaining utilities
rose island has no utility lines from the city � no water, no electric, no sewer, no phone, and no cable tv.  there is no fresh water other than what can be gathered from the rain or hand carried to the island.  a wind turbine on the lighthouse property produces a small amount of electricity to run the lighthouse.  the lighthouse septic field is rated for 800 gallons per day (gpd) to accommodate the bedrooms at the lighthouse plus an average of 100 visitors per day.  the lighthouse has a marine vhf radio and a cellular phone for communication available.

6.3.   military use / hazmats
beginning in 1883, rose island was used for the storage of explosives.  during world wars i and ii, it was the isolated part of the newport naval torpedo station where torpedoes and mines were filled.  several structures have been identified as unsafe, either because 1) they are in poor condition or 2) there is a possibility of hazardous materials (hazmats) being present.

the acoe has already removed most of the suspect hazmats, including fuel oil tanks and transformer housings.  however, there is still some concern about possible chemical contamination of the soils around the magazines, and about asbestos-containing materials in boiler insulation, roofing tiles and concrete walls and roofs of several buildings.

to insure the island is safe for public use, the foundation will work with ri dem office of waste management and the acoe in their capacity as the federal agency required to remediate formerly used defense sites (fuds).  (see letter from ridem owm attached as exhibit 6.)


7.     stewardship goals

7.1.   wildlife habitat protection
the primary importance of rose island to wildlife is its value as nesting habitat for migratory birds.  annual surveys by ri dem fish & wildlife and the foundation show it to be a critically important wading bird nesting rookery in narragansett bay.  the number of nesting little blue heron, black-crowned night heron, great and snowy egret, and glossy ibis has been increasing for the past ten years.  in 1996, 162 pairs of wading birds nested on rose island.  it is the largest primary nesting site for canada geese and, overall, has the third largest colony of nesting birds in narragansett bay and is growing each year.  herring and black-backed gulls, american oystercatchers, and a variety of songbirds also nest on rose island each year.

the reason for the island�s popularity is the natural habitat succession which has occurred in the fifty years since the military stopped maintaining the island as a mowed field.  the type of vegetation which has grown back is very attractive for nesting birds.  coupled with that fact is the lack of predators like raccoon, fox or skunk.  this is especially important to birds that nest in dense colonies, because a few predators can destroy an entire colony in a brief period of time.  the combination of good nesting habitat, lack of predators, and low levels of human disturbance makes rose island ideal for colonial nesting wading birds.

experience on other islands has shown that increased development and subsequent effects of increased human disturbance along with the inevitable rise in predation has caused the rapid decline and loss of bird nesting colonies.  it is anticipated that any efforts to expand development or allow human disturbance of the nesting areas during the critical nesting periods from late spring to early summer will have similar impacts on the colonial nesting birds of rose island.

with appropriate management, the colony of nesting wading birds on rose island will continue to increase.  protecting undeveloped islands such as rose island to provide disturbance-free nesting habitat is critical to preserving the long-term integrity of nesting bird colonies in narragansett bay.  it is the only way to ensure that heron, egret, ibis, and other migratory birds will be here for rhode island and its visitors to enjoy in the future.

preservation of the island also preserves the eelgrass beds just offshore, critical to the biological diversity of narragansett bay and an important source for transplant efforts to restore eelgrass beds throughout the bay.

no rare or endangered plant species have been identified on rose island.  the foundation will continue to take plant inventories.  one dilemma is that there is already an abundance of invasive species such as bittersweet, multiflora rose and japanese honeysuckle, which provide nesting habitat.  carefully controlled, experimental efforts will be made to manage this situation and to encourage a greater variety of native plants.


7.2.   historical / cultural resource preservation
preserving our historic heritage by saving significant buildings and properties is a true test of our maturity as a community and as a nation.  without proper stewardship, the historic structures of rose island are in imminent danger of being lost to future generations.

the inventory of fortifications built on the island includes a 1778 british battery; a revolutionary war fort built 1780-81 with our french allies under rochambeau; the major part of a u.s. first system fort built from 1798-1800 (ft. hamilton); plus many structures from world wars i and ii. 

the most significant is fort hamilton, which has been determined to be eligible for the national register of historic places, but is increasingly vulnerable to deterioration from weather, pigeons and invasive plants.  with help from experts in historical fortifications, this largely intact 18th century fort will be preserved by the foundation as a national treasure.  remaining military sites of this era are so few in number, it is incredible that so little has been done to preserve and protect fort hamilton.  to understand the fort�s design by french-born engineers hired by the u.s. war department and military strategists of the day, the rest of the island should remain undeveloped, as it was when the fort was originally built to defend the mouth of newport harbor.

in addition, an underwater archaeological survey by the ri marine archaeology project has revealed a potential for revolutionary war period shipwrecks east and south of rose island, which would also be eligible for the national register.

the acquisition by the foundation is an important first step in the stewardship of this tremendous resource.  in addition, the more recent twentieth century military structures and ruins also provide an opportunity for education and an understanding of contemporary military history.


7.3.   education
located inside the mouth of narragansett bay a designated estuary of national significance, rose island offers a wealth of resources to support multi-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary environmental education for a wide range of student, teacher and public programs. 

the island�s ecosystem features a variety of easily-accessed areas of great educational importance including a range of marine and terrestrial fish and wildlife habitats.  its waters and near shore eelgrass beds are subjects of ongoing monitoring and research by federal, state and non-profit environmental agencies.  in addition, the historic human alterations of the vegetation and topography of the island provide unique opportunities for hands-on, outdoor environmental education and field studies. 

the island�s rich social and long military history, coupled with the established educational function of the rose island lighthouse makes this location a perfect place for a range of educational experiences. 

rilf�s record in using the lighthouse property for educational purposes has been outstanding.  visitors to the lighthouse learn about the �invisible infrastructure� which supports their lives ashore when they see water collected from rain, toilets pumped by hand, and electricity produced by the wind. 

the island as a whole can be a wonderful educational tool if the lighthouse program is allowed to expand to the natural and historic resources discussed above.  working in conjunction with other environmental education programs like those provided by save the bay and university of rhode island, for example, will further enhance the island�s potential for school-based and public educational programming.

as owner of the property, the foundation will be able to control public access to preserve the resources under its stewardship, while at the same time develop educational programs to serve a wide variety of audiences on a limited basis.

by developing a strong educational component, rose island could become the gateway for a rejuvenated bay islands park system and further help narragansett bay become an �ecotourist� destination for those who value learning about the environment and history wherever they travel.


7.4.   public access
responsible public access is encouraged, particularly for educational purposes.  providing safe public access, however, is probably the most difficult challenge the foundation faces.  safety for the visitor as well as safety for the wildlife and historic structures are concerns that must be balanced carefully.  responsible public access is predicated primarily on our successful education and public relations programs that encourage visitors' cooperation to meet our conservation objectives.

7.4.1.      limited access
in 2004 the crmc issued a one year permit to allow full public access to the 1.5 acre lighthouse property, the barracks of fort hamilton, and the beach west of plymouth rocks to accommodate the foundation�s expanded environmental education program and fundraising events.  because most of the rest of the island contains the nesting areas and is so much more sensitive to disturbances, the foundation limits public access there from april 1 to august 15, which is the same date as other bay islands. 

during the restricted period, visitors are not allowed near critical habitat areas either on land or by water.  this includes, for example, the bird-nesting areas in the summer months, as well as seal haul-out sites in the winter months.  when physical access would be harmful, the foundation plans to develop visual access, so people could see what is going on from designated look-out points at a safe distance. this includes an observation platform on the roof of the barracks building, and the �ultimate safe distance� on the internet via remote-controlled video cameras.

7.4.2.      jurisdiction
the keepers at the lighthouse provide general surveillance on a daily basis.  in rare instances when visitors have made significant problems of themselves, or were in real danger, the foundation has called either the us coast guard or the newport harbormaster for assistance.  small camp fires for cooking are allowed in one designated area on the lighthouse property.  no bon fires are allowed, except those which are granted permits by the newport fire department.

7.4.3.      activity scheduling
the foundation schedules all activities.  most are by appointment except public tours, which are offered only from july 1 to labor day, when the jamestown-newport ferry provides scheduled service on a daily basis.  the ferry can accommodate up to 45 passengers at a time.  between 10 am and 4 pm the foundation�s guides greet visitors at the landing.  guides are available to supervise visitors as well as to interpret the environmental surroundings and historical significance of the light station.  in addition, all visitors are informed of our "island mentality" � rules which include:  "pack it in and pack it out"; "take only what you need"; and flush only after "3 ps or a poo".

7.4.4.      trails
from august 15 to april 1 the following year, visitors are encouraged to carefully walk only around the island below the mean high tide line, and not to venture into the interior of the island, which is unsafe.  in the future, very narrow, winding trails might be developed along the old roads and/or railroad beds.

7.4.5.      trash
in spite of the fact that visitors take their trash with them, rose island is constantly littered with trash that washes ashore with every tide.  visitors and keepers clean it up and deposit it into receptacles near the landing.  twice a year, on earth day (april 22) and in september when the dem organizes its "get the drift and bag it" campaign, the beach debris at rose island is organized, counted and the data is sent to the organizers.  the trash is brought by "starfish" to newport to be disposed of properly.


8.      aesthetics

rose island is universally admired for its natural beauty, even by those who have never been ashore.  from the perspective of the newport bridge, it is an oasis providing relief from the overdeveloped vista of newport harbor. 

the island gives us a visual link to our region�s past, from the restored victorian lighthouse to the revolutionary war fortifications.  relighting the light on august 7, 1993 was an important symbolic act in this era of electronic navigation; it showed respect for an earlier age and is a living, poetic reminder of our nation�s maritime heritage. 

preservation for aesthetic reasons is a worthy goal by itself, coupled with the many other issues listed above, this management plan provides for the management of all of rose island by an organization which has pledged to protect and maintain that special place for generations to come. 

we look forward to long and cooperative working relationships with the dem and the rihp&hc to make this vision a reality.


9.   map

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