(Here’s some of what you’ll see as you hum along a bike path. This one’s the Blackstone Valley Bike Path in Rhode Island, something the state did “very right, but it could just as well be ‘Anywhere USA.’ “)
***The following piece ran in the Providence Journal. It’s a recognition by this appreciative biker of the forward-thinking people who establish bike paths for all to enjoy. It is similarly a call to all states to appropriate funds to insure the continuance of these family-friendly activities.
In his commercials, Dennis Hopper (of Easy Rider fame) is right: We are “the new ’50s,” the breed of active seniors, eschewing Bingo, shuffleboard or interminable luncheons, preferring active retirement instead. Because of good genes, modern medicine and financial well-being, we find ourselves in the enviable position of being able to play in retirement and for many of us our sport of choice is biking. And, because we always suited up for other occasions in life, we active seniors wear wick shirts, shorts and helmets and we sport those ingenious, watering devices — camelbacks — that let us hydrate, in motion, hands-on — at all times. We’re playing in earnest, and our playground of choice is Rhode Island’s magnificent bike trails.
Mid-week, we careen along some 100 miles of trails, carved out of old train beds or sculpted anew from woodlands. Most of these trails were built by a combination of federal (National Guard), state and community workers.
Who’s our only competition? Occasional pre-schoolers, who weave in and out, haltingly, on training wheels, under the watchful eye of a parent, or skaters towing netted cabooses, filled with smaller ones. Sometimes young adults, ostensibly on a different work schedule than most, blur past, but they are a different breed — serious bikers, tabulating their time. They never amble along, taking in nature’s bounty.
We have found, too, that each bike path has its own distinct personality. The South County Bike Path cuts through back fields of South Kingstown and slices through the Great Swamp Management Area, where dead trees loom, like sentries guarding their kingdom. Here, duck families converse and red-winged blackbirds dart across the expanse where an occasional death-fight emerges between snake and frog. The swamp is a living laboratory of the Darwinian struggle.
Honeysuckle perfumes the air in summer, and in fall, wild muscadine grapes, their branches heavy with fruit, intoxicate us. This trail now runs for about 12 miles, up and back, from Kingston Train Depot to the carpeted grass behind the Quo Vadis Shopping Center, in Wakefield (ultimately it will go to Narragansett). This trail is hardly punishing but can be tricky, especially the dread ramp, whose hairpin curves signal the cross-over point at Route 108. If one doesn’t navigate just right (walking one’s bike through is recommended), a biker can slam into the stone-wall abutments.
Taking the Washington Bike Path (10 miles from Cranston to Coventry, and out to Connecticut upon completion), and the Blackstone Valley Bike Path (17.1 miles now, in Lincoln and Cumberland, but envisioned as 48 from Providence to Worcester) is a way to appreciate the heritage of the factories in these towns.
On the West Warwick segment, bikers look down on the infrastructure of the still-operating Bradford Soap Works. In the distance looms an even larger symbol of a bygone industrial era, the sprawling complex of Royal Mills, refurbished as retail space and leased apartments. Stone clock towers loom as erstwhile sentinels that commanded workers to jobs. Below is the Pawtuxet River, once a waste receptacle when policing of the environment was nonexistent. These mills occupied center-stage in the workers’ lives, while today they are backdrop to the trails.
Finally, the East Bay Bike Path goes 14.5 miles, from Providence to Bristol, some of which jogs along defunct railroad lines, alongside Narragansett Bay. Bikers cross two wooden slatted bridges whose rails serve as fishing posts, and later, the trail crosses Route 114, and skirts the Bay, fringed by high sea grasses. Bikers pass acres of marshlands, where tern, cormorants and snowy white cranes and egrets forage for food, and end in Bristol, where eateries abound, at the water’s edge. A biker can stop at any of these or lock up the bike and hike up through town to stroll through antique shops or get coffee and pastry.
Since Colt State Park abuts the path, a biker can easily enter its roadways, where treats include giant rhododendron whose buds burst fuchsia in spring, charming stone walls, an antiquated bridge where boys and men crab against the current, and green lawns that descend to the seawall. Along any of the park’s roadways are picnic tables, where one can enjoy lunch while lazily surveying the Bay and watching occasional kite-runners.
Sometimes we visit the bike paths in the Cape Cod National Seashore, whose asphalt pathways cut through the dunes, or we hum along our shorter version of the Cape Cod Rail Trail, starting in Dennis and ending in Chatham, going by woodlands, upscale neighborhoods and cranberry bogs.
But, we never tire of our Rhode Island bike paths, with their ever-changing beauty. To those who had the vision to resurrect these from outmoded train beds, “Thank you” for adding immeasurably to our lives and we encourage other states to earmark lands for public use as bike paths. If you agree, send this post to all you know who might move their own state legislators to continue funding this worthy endeavor…The buttons to click are below.