Block Island: Easy to get to, hard to leave
Block Island: Easy to get to, hard to leave
By Susan Spencer
Time was when people would travel to an island to get away from it all, to turn back time and enjoy a slower pace of life away from the crowds. While some popular vacation islands have become nearly as jammed as mainland destinations, Block Island remains an oasis in the Atlantic.
Located about 13 miles off the south coast of Rhode Island and 14 miles east of Long Island, this offshore outpost, just 10 square miles of land, is an easy day trip to scenic beaches, country roads and a laid-back atmosphere.
Elizabeth Aviles of Kent, Conn., was taking the ferry to Block Island from Point Judith, R.I., for a beach day last summer with her husband and children, now ages 10 and 12.
“Everything’s really easily accessible. It’s gorgeous — and it’s fun biking,” she said. “I’ve also heard it said that Block Island is what Martha’s Vineyard used to be.”
The Aviles family rents scooters near the ferry dock to get to parts of the island beyond walking distance.
During the summer, two-wheel transportation seems to outnumber cars on the road.
Pedal (or moped) power is an appropriately relaxed and very doable way to tour Block Island. A loop around the island roads is about 16 miles, with rolling hills and unsurpassed views.
From the ferry dock in the heart of New Shoreham, Block Island’s official municipality, it’s an easy stroll or ride to any prime beachfront along the two-and-a-half-mile Crescent Beach on Block Island Sound. Surf ranges here from gentle waves at the Kids Beach section of the Frederick J. Benson Town Beach, to areas with higher, rolling breakers.
Bike a mile or two south of town and you’ll come to the majestic clay cliffs of Mohegan Bluffs, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The view is magnificent but getting to the beach 150 feet below is breathtaking in itself, involving a steep set of stairs and a clamber over rocks, with the aid of an anchored rope if need be.
Beneath the cliff at Mohegan Bluffs, dozens of rock cairns and driftwood sculptures line the beach in a Block Island tradition.
Another Block Island tradition is for visitors to rub clay from the cliffs on their faces and bodies, a do-it-yourself spa treatment. Kylie Till of Upton and Nicole Murphy of Mendon hiked up the rugged shore from the beach on a day trip last summer sporting the souvenir mud slashes across their cheeks, something they said they had heard about and wanted to try on their outing.
Admission to all beaches on the island, as well as parking, is free.
Lighthouse buffs will find two 19th-century artifacts of the Ocean State’s heritage to explore.
Southeast Lighthouse, just east of Mohegan Bluffs, features a small museum open to the public in summer and tours of the Victorian redbrick tower. Built in 1873, this National Historic Landmark was moved in 1993 when it stood just 55 feet from the bluff, the result of erosion.
Across the island, North Light on Sandy Point marks the northernmost outpost. To get to the lighthouse, you have to walk a three-quarter mile trail along the beach through the Block Island National Wildlife Refuge. The sandy and pebbled path is flat, however, and well worth the trip.
North Light was built in 1867 and unlike the gingerbread architectural features of Southeast Lighthouse, it stands as a stark granite beacon. A small museum inside tells the story of shipwrecks off the island’s shores, including the 1907 sinking of the steamer Larchmont.
The waters here are still treacherous. At Sandy Point, waves from Block Island Sound crash fiercely into surf from Long Island Sound, creating a dramatic effect but dangerous tidal currents.
Reflecting contemporary as well as historic remembrances of loved ones lost, a memorial garden to victims of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, is tucked between the lighthouse and the dunes.
Water recreation is everywhere on Block Island, not just along its shoreline beaches. In New Harbor and its Great Salt Pond inlets on the northwest side of the island, kayaking and paddle boarding have become popular pastimes. Several vendors offer rentals and lessons, particularly on paddle boarding.
“You need a few minutes until you get used to it. After that, it’s really fun,” said an employee of Aldo’s Boat Rentals. “People really like it. You’re standing so you can look around.”
While much of Block Island’s pleasures come from beaching, boating and biking, there are plenty of opportunities to shop for unique treasures created by the many artists who flock here.
A visit to North Light Fibers, a working yarn mill, is an all-encompassing experience from fiber to fabric. North Light Fibers is located beyond the gate to Abrams Animal Farm, so you may encounter one of the alpacas or camels whose hair contributed to the mill’s fine yarns or handmade clothing and décor.
“Anything we can get locally from the animals, we use,” said a North Light Fibers employee.
Local seafood and garden bounty are also put to good use in the island’s restaurants.
Ian Hagerty, from Madison, Conn., has been selling seafood at Finn’s Fish Market, overlooking the harbor, for five years. “I vacationed on Block Island every year until I was 16,” he said. “In 2007, I decided to come out and work.”
The Fish Market is adjacent to Finn’s Seafood Restaurant, and both venues offer fresh-off-the-boat lobster, swordfish and tuna, as well as other specialties, to dine on while watching boats come and go or to take home for a clambake.
After a bike ride around the island, sandwiches at Three Sisters on Old Town Road, a few blocks from the harbor, provide lunch fare with a twist. Favorites like the Twisted Sister, with turkey, avocado and bacon, have food aficionados flocking into the tiny cottage for counter service and around the eclectically decorated dining area outside.
Three Sisters employee Scott Lucy, of Stonington, Conn., is another washashore drawn to the island by its beauty and relaxed lifestyle.
“I’m a big runner so the scenery itself is so unbelievable, you wouldn’t think it’s part of Rhode Island. It’s tranquil,” he said, while spreading horseradish mayonnaise on a roast beef sandwich.
Lucy’s coworker and longtime resident Gillian Carson, an art major at the University of Rhode Island who returned to Block Island, said it’s the island’s peacefulness and close-knit community that draw people together.
“Everyone comes back,” she said. “No one leaves.”