Seaside to city streets, R.I. is big on walking trails

By Paul E. Kandarian
Globe Correspondent / October 25, 2009

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Rhode Island is a small state custom-made, it would seem, for walking, by the ocean, through the countryside, or down city streets. It seems natural to hoof it here at a slow, steady pace, enjoying the many sights and sounds, particularly at this colorful time of year when the air is crisp and clean.

So while you could perambulate almost anywhere in Rhode Island and have a good time doing it, consider these 10 paths worth walking.

The Narragansett sea wall is a half-mile walk by the sun-dappled ocean that can be a bit chilly when the wind whips off the water. Start out near the last remaining section of the Narragansett Pier Casino, also known as The Towers, which back in its day was more high society than Newport. Walk south on Ocean Road about a mile and hit Black Point Park, a popular fishing spot and home of the Malcolm Grant Trail, a winding, wooded dirt path that opens to beautiful ocean vistas that include the Newport Bridge on the far horizon. Use extreme caution on the rocky, steep shoreline: Three people have died here in recent years; the rocks can be slippery and the ocean turbulent. 35 Ocean Drive.

For a short walk long on history, take a trek around the 22-acre Conanicut Battery National Historic Park in Jamestown. From 1776-1783, this was an earthen fortification built by colonists and later occupied by the British and likely the French. It is now a beautiful, wide-open meadow. In World Wars I and II, there were six Army command posts here that, among other things, controlled minefields in the east and west passages of Narragansett Bay, of which the battery had a commanding hilltop view. The six in-ground cement stations are still visible, buried in the earth, narrow observation slits sticking up above ground. Walking trails are well marked with information on the history of the site. Battery Lane, off Beavertail Road, just south of Fort Getty Road.

Mount Hope Farm in Bristol is one of those best-kept secrets that are hard to hide and fun to find in such a small state. This site is historic - here is the Governor Bradford House built in 1745 by Isaac Royall, then one of the country’s wealthiest men and which is now a private inn. All around it are 200 heavily wooded acres and streams, fields and ponds, connected by myriad walking trails. Many paths open to sprawling water views of Mount Hope Bay and the Mount Hope Bridge spanning the bay and connecting Bristol with Portsmouth. The farm was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on July 4, 1976. 250 Metacom Ave.,, 401-254-1270.

Benefit Street on Providence’s richly historic East Side was created in 1758, it is written, “for the common benefit of all,’’ mainly to relieve Main Street congestion. Built along a path of gardens, orchards, and family burial plots, Benefit Street is known as Providence’s “Mile of History,’’ famous for its Colonial and early Federal buildings, handsome, well-kept homes that are an eyeful on a lingering walk, particularly in fall when the tree-lined street explodes with color. Notable are structures like the First Baptist Church, built in 1775, its steeple inspired by St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London, and the Providence Athenaeum, one of the nation’s oldest lending libraries.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of Rhode Island’s state parks, and rather fittingly, state authorization to purchase the first park, Lincoln Woods, in Lincoln, was given on Feb. 12, 1909 - President Lincoln’s 100th birthday. This 627-acre park five miles from Providence is a sprawling gem of the park system, and one of its busiest, with 2.3 million visitors last year, who took advantage of the chance to hike, bike, jog, swim, ride horses, ice skate, ice fish, just-plain fish, rock climb, boat, picnic, or just plain sit around and admire the place. Walkers hike the occasionally hilly, 2 1/2-mile Les Pawson Loop, named for the Rhode Island man who won the Boston Marathon in 1933, 1938, and 1941 and used to train here. 2 Manchester Print Words Road,, 401-723-7892.

Where to walk on Block Island? Where not to walk on Block Island is more likely, with an island so small - three-by-seven miles - you could conceivably walk around the entire place in eight hours. But one of the most popular places is the Mohegan Trail on the island’s southeast side, home of the spectacular Mohegan Bluffs that rise sharply some 200 feet from the beach below, and the Southeast Light, a historic lighthouse said to be one of the brightest in the East that was once visited by President Ulysses S. Grant. Hiking here gets a bit physical, with the trail following hilly swells and dips, and especially so at a long, zig-zagging staircase allowing you access to the coast and a crisp walk of up to three miles if you can handle it. Dress for it, wind off the water here is especially chilling.

Fifty acres isn’t a big hunk of land, but at the Emilie Ruecker Wildlife Refuge in Tiverton, they make the most of it. This parcel, once a farm owned by its namesake and donated to the Audubon Society in 1965, is particularly gorgeous in fall, with flat, well-marked trails winding through woods and salt marshes along the Sakonnet River. All manner of feathered creatures can be found here, including great egrets, snowy egrets, and glossy ibis; there are blinds here for observing and photographing birds. The 1 1/2-mile network of trails takes less than two hours to hike. Lingering longer is a worthy option. Seapowet Avenue,, 401-949-5454.

You think walking in Newport and what springs to mind? Cliff Walk, sure, but try out a Newport Harbor walk, put together by Friends of the Waterfront, particularly the north walk that covers the historic residential Point Section, the original Colonial city center that remained relatively unscathed when the British broke up the docks and burned them for heat in the Revolutionary War. There is much to see, including Gravelly Point at the end of Long Wharf, where pirates were hanged and President Washington once landed on what was subsequently named Washington Street. Historic homes on the less than 3-mile walk include Hunter House, used over the years by Tories, the French Navy, doctors, and boarding nuns. At the end is Battery Park and one of the best sunset views in the city.

It makes sense that most of the state-owned Great Swamp Wildlife Management Area, much of which is in South Kingston and partly juts into Richmond, is wetlands, 2,262 acres of it in a preserve of less than 3,500 acres. But you can see lots of it with well-maintained trails coursing through the spongy low-lying land, in a place dominated by red swamp maples. The area is popular with bikers and hikers; the South County Bike Path brushes by its northeast corner. 277 Great Neck Road, West Kingston, 401-789-7481.

You have your Narragansett Bay and in Watch Hill, a cozy village in Westerly in the farthest southwestern corner of the state, you have Little Narragansett Bay, a waterway best seen by walking along the half-mile-long Napatree Beach. At the end of Fort Road is a nature trail that takes hikers out to historic Napatree Point where they can see the ruins of Fort Mansfield, an old coastal artillery post. Resorts and beach cottages dotted this area until the Hurricane of 1938 wiped them out.

Paul E. Kandarian can be reached at kandarian@