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Hiking & Birdwatching
For an island with just 10 square miles of land, Block Island features an amazing number of excellent but easy hikes. In fact, hiking may be the most popular activity on the island.
A well-maintained trail system stretches across the island. These 25 miles of walking trails, or Greenway Trails, with 11 access points, are described below.
Clay Head Hill Trail – Some of the island’s best views are along Clay Head Trail. A third of a mile into the trail, walkers will find an intersection. Right will take you to the beach; left will take you along the picturesque bluffs. At the top of the trail, there is an area informally known as “the maze, ” where walkers can wander through interconnected, unmarked pathways. In the fall, this is one of the best spots in North America to sight migratory songbirds.
To reach the trail: take the dirt road east off Corn Neck Road opposite the big yellow farm house, three miles from town. The parking lot and trailhead are at the end of the bumpy road. Bikes must be left at the racks at the trailhead.
Elizabeth Dickens Trail – This trail is named after “the bird lady” of Block Island, who taught ornithology and natural history to school children and is credited with instilling Block Island’s conservation ethic. The trail traverses open fields that run to the edge of the bluffs. The trailhead is not easy to find. Turn onto the dirt road at the southwest corner of Cooneymus Road. Then take your second left and continue for an eighth of a mile.
Fresh Swamp Trail – A combination of trees and open fields makes this trail a good place to observe such raptors as the northern harrier. It is also quite pretty. The trail begins east of Fresh Pond; look for wooden steps heading over a stone wall.
The Greenway – Inspired by the Greenway trails of England, the Block Island Greenway includes 15 miles of cleared trails, winding through the southern half of the island. Nathan Mott Park, the Enchanted Forest, Turnip Farm, and Rodman’s Hollow can all be accessed via the Greenway trail system. Access points can be found on Lakeside Drive, and along Old Mill, Cooneymus, West Side and Beacon Hill roads. Look for granite Greenway markers, turnstyles and steps over stone walls.
Hodge Family Preserve. Off Corn Neck Road sits this 25-acre field sloping to Middle Pond and West Beach. The property was acquired for conservation in 2002 and is jointly owned and managed by the town, The Nature Conservancy, the BI Land Trust and the Block Island Conservancy. Walkers and others engaging in passive recreation are welcome. Small parking lot.
Rodman’s Hollow – This glacial outwash plain features panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean, as well as access to the beach. Owned and protected by the Block Island Conservancy, Rodman’s Hollow is a truly memorable hike. The hollow can be entered from Cooneymus Road, where a dirt road (Black Rock Road) leads to a wooden turnstile at the trailhead.
Fresh Pond Greenway – This area is named after a 1920s song composed by Arthur Penn, who lived on the island. Walkers should be prepared for steep slopes and some tricky footing. The trail starts near the intersection of Lakeside Drive and Cooneymus Road and heads west along the shore of Fresh Pond. To continue to Rodman’s Hollow, follow a link from the south part of the trail.
The Greenway network of trails is maintained by The Nature Conservancy (High Street, just past the Block Island Health and General Store š401/466-2129). The Nature Conservancy also conducts nature walks. Call for time, or check listings in the Block Island Times. The Greenway effort has involved state and federal agencies, and all of Block Island’s land-conservation organizations.
Some of the island’s best hikes are along beaches. It is possible to hike around the entire island in approximately eight hours. Start at any beach, and go as far as you’d like (be careful in times of high surf). There are two breaks in the shoreline: the New Harbor Channel and the ferry landing in Old Harbor.
The island’s roads are great for hikes. With the possible exception of a short strip sometimes called Moped Alley (actually Weldon’s Way), where tourists test drive mopeds, there isn’t an unsightly roadway on all of Block Island. However, the West Side loop is gorgeous. Begin in New Harbor. From Payne’s Dock you can look across the harbor to see a spit of land called Beane Point. Owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department, this area is so important to migrating birds that, with the exception of the beach, it is off-limits to hikers.
Proceed west along West Side Road. One-half mile up is the Island Cemetery. From atop this hill of passed souls you can see the North Light and the Rhode Island coast: on a clear day, look for the Jamestown-Newport Bridge at 40 degrees east. Continuing west, you’ll pass a farm and a number of small ponds. You can get some beach time by turning right onto Dorry’s Cove Road or Cooneymus Beach Road; both dead-end at the island’s tranquil west shore.
One mile from Dorry’s Cove, West Side Road jogs to the left, where it becomes Cooneymus Road. A half mile further along, you’ll see Rodman’s Hollow, a deep ravine on your right. Cooneymus Road next veers sharply to the left (this stretch of road is known as Cherry Hill) and passes Fresh Pond before an intersection. Turn left onto Center Road and proceed downhill to the State Airport. To get back to town, turn right on Old Town Road; to return to New Harbor, continue on Center Road and turn right on West Side Road.
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