Visits to Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge in Newport, RI never disappoint. We enjoy the wide level graveled path that encircles the spit of land jutting out into the surf. Although we have been here countless times, it never gets old.
I often forget to check the “wildlife sightings” board at the entrances of various visitor centers we stop at. On the white board outside Sachuest’s welcome center, someone with a sense of humor added to the traditional “loons, cormorants, coopers hawks, gulls of various sorts, eiders, harlequin ducks” and such. Scanning the whiteboard, I spotted a number of tongue in cheek artistic efforts that made me smile. People who love birds have such a quirky sense of humor–a rich and welcome addition to the joy of being outdoors..
Migrating waterfowl hunker down just off shore, hopping onto the rocky outcrops to take a break after enjoying their morning breakfast.
Deer are common on the brushy hillsides that offer lots of places where they can disappear when they have finished spying on visitors.
The sky often provides a spectacular vision of light and dark, soaring clouds and stunning sunsets.
Our first visit to Sachuest was at the prompting of a helpful person who suggested we head there to see rafts of birds and snow owls. Her suggestion was spot on. On that winter day we saw at least one snowy owl, perhaps more, and giant flocks of waterfowl floating just off shore, riding the waves and diving under to search the rocky bottom for food. This past year the snowy owls seem to have gone elsewhere. Perhaps the birds found the popular area to be too stressful and found other places to hang out for the winter. Logan Airport in Boston is a favorite spot for them to show up. (They are relocated to safer environments as promptly as possible.)
Sachuest has multiple benches at frequent intervals all along the loop trail that hugs the shoreline on this spectacular spot. Those of us looking for Easy Walks often hope for more than just trail surfaces with not too many roots or rocks, a path that is relatively level, and something of interest along the way. Benches where we can stop to rest when needed are a big plus.
Another amenity that is often in short supply at trail heads is bathrooms. Signs at the visitor center noted that the exhibits (and bathrooms) are open from 10-4 daily. Additional bathrooms are open from 6:30 AM to 6:30 PM. Oh joy!
The biggest challenge is parking, since this is a popular spot in all seasons. Especially when the owls are in residence, it is nearly impossible to find a parking spot in the middle of the day. It may be too early for the snowy owls right now, but I seem to recall they never arrived at Sachuest last year. Other years the owls have been harrassed by too many visitors. Caring volunteers stood watch to enforce boundaries in place intended to protect these beautiful birds from enthusiastic but careless visitors.
A spotting scope and raised platform offer a great vantage point to get a better look at the birds just offshore. The handicapped accessible ramp to the platform provides access for those of us who have difficulty managing steps.
Another platform, taller than the first we encountered, allows for great views. However, the steep stairs, with railings that do not reach to the lowest step, and handrails that I was unable to grasp (palm down on railing, fingers need to grasp the outside of the rail) make this a less than welcoming option for everyone except for those who need no railings. This may sound petty. The rest of the sanctuary has been so carefully laid out to be welcome for many abilities that this oversight felt deeply disappointing. I was lucky to have a support person to back me up as I climbed to the top of the platform (and back down!). Others may not be so fortunate
Regardless of this oversight, Sachuest offers so much to love and so many places to take in the views that it is still so worth making the time to visit. There is no entrance fee, and the volunteers at the visitor center are welcoming and helpful. Happy trails!
Marjorie Turner Hollman is a writer who loves the outdoors, and is the author of Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, More Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, Easy Walks and Paddles in the Ten Mile River Watershed, and Finding Easy Walks Wherever You Are. Her memoir, the backstory of Easy Walks, is My Liturgy of Easy Walks: Reclaiming hope in a world turned upside down.