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Wilson Park N. Kingstown, RI beach walk

Long Point, North Kingstown, RI

Beaches get so crowded in summer that it is tough to find a quiet spot to take in the water, the horizon, and the sounds and smells of the ocean. We normally avoid going to the beach in warmer weather for these, and other reasons.

We ventured to Wickford, RI on an errand, and on our way back north encountered Wilson Park, on Roosevelt Ave., North Kingstown, RI just off Rt. 1A. The main portion of the park was jammed with summer visitors. Children climbed on playground equipment, while others picnicked, played basketball, baseball, soccer, or simply lay out in the sun. We hurried past the noisy main park and found ourselves at the Long Point boat ramp, part of Wilson Park. As opposed to most places with shoreline access, this area was surprisingly uncrowded.

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Our own type of fun at Jellystone in Virginia

Fun with Yogi!

Lots of us grew up watching Saturday morning cartoons. But not so many get to really hug Yogi Bear. A series of cimcumstances brought us to Jellystone Park near Natural Bridge, Virginia. We feared the place would be filled with noisy campers, but instead, we arrived early in the season and had the place to ourselves.

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Greenbriar River rail trail, West Virginia

Along the Greenbriar River Rail trail, north of Lewisburg, WV

We love riding on rail trails alongside rivers. The Greenbriar rail trail follows the river of the same name, and passes through two tunnels. Seventy-eight miles long, the trail is in great shape, with solid footing, quite level, and is perfect for biking. Walking works great too; you will simply have to take longer to see everything along the way!

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New River Trail, Virginia

Foster Falls, along the New River, Virginia

This spring our travels took us south along (basically) the East Coast. We headed to Tennessee by way of Pennsylvania and West Virginia to see grandboys, and then back north, through Virginia on our way home to New England. We were able to bring our adaptive tandem bicycle with us, and although we did not saddle up every day, we got a number of wonderful rides in on some really scenic rail trails. The New River Trail State Park was one of the highlights of our spring sojourn. The packed stone dust rail trail (it follows the path of a former rail bed) is a Virginia linear state park, fifty-seven miles in length. We were impressed by the carefully maintained trail surfaces. Branches and fallen trees had been removed making for a relaxed, enjoyable visit. For much of the ten miles (twenty miles round trip) we traveled we could hear, and often see the river right next to the trail.

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Ellisville Harbor and seals!

One reclining harbor seal, hanging out on a rock outcrop quite near shore, while another waits its turn…

This was our second visit to Ellisville Harbor State Park in Plymouth, MA. On our first visit in August, we were led to believe the path to the shoreline was at least a mile. Since my “on foot” range is about two miles, this would leave no energy for actually walking on the beach, plus it was warmer than I could risk in August. We chose to head on, and ended up at Shifting Lots Preserve, another open space quite nearby. We returned to the state park on a cool day in December, and decided to try reaching the beach. Turns out, the trail is closer to a half mile out, well within my capabilities when the weather is cool outside.

What we didn’t know was that this relatively quiet state park is a favorite spot for seals to hang out in at low tide, just off shore. What I at first mistook for a large sea gull about fifty yards off shore on a rock turned out to be a reclining seal, lolling about as the tides rolled under him (or her). Nearby, presumably jealous seals hung out, perhaps hoping the resting seal would give them a turn on the rock. Not a chance. Our seal persisted in staying on the rock for the hour or so we spent walking the beach near sundown.

We counted in all about a dozen other seals along the shoreline, only fifty yards or so off shore. The more we looked, the more we saw. We usually get excited seeing one or two seals. This was more at one time that we’ve seen on our walks, except perhaps on the California Coast (and those were sea lions).

Unlike some beaches, even at low tide, we found the sand there to be quite soft. Closer to the water the beach was rocky and more difficult for me to manage. Since it had been a relatively Easy Walk out to the shore from where we parked, I was able to enjoy my time near the water without too much pain. My hiking poles were really helpful in keeping me upright in the soft sand.

We walked south on the beach toward the outgoing stream flowing from the wetlands that are part of the state park.

The same stream, from the Shifting Lots Preserve, at high tide

On our August visit we had walked on the opposite side of the stream, at the Shifting Lots Preserve. That visit had been at high tide, and we were not tempted to try to cross the stream over to the Ellisville Harbor beach side of the stream. Low tide still offered a steady stream, more than we were prepared to cross without waders.

This visit, we got a chance to see the other side, and low tide revealed a very different complexion of the path the water takes to get to the sea. Many streams on the east coast that reach the ocean are encumbered by development, so this was a treat to walk along and see the water flowing toward the ocean.

If we had spent enough time there, we could have watched the tide shift the flow of the water, pushing it back into the wetlands. Another visit, perhaps.

All but the last section of trail to reach the beach counted as an Easy Walk for me–a few rocks, some tree roots, a very firm clear path, with lots of views of the ocean. In warmer weather there will be fewer views as the hardwoods in the area will leaf out, obscuring the view in all but a few spots.

Erosion has made access to this stretch of beach pretty challenging

That last section to reach the beach is a doozy. Beach erosion has left substantial cliffs along the shoreline. We went to the end of the trail and found a very steep, rocky path down to the shore (which I declined to try to attempt). We had noticed several side paths on our way out to the end, so backtracked to the path closest to the end and found an easier path. This path is still quite steep, especially at first, with tree roots that act as steps–sort of. I required assistance navigating this section of trail, even with my hiking poles. Thankfully, I brought along a willing helper who provided the needed support to get me safely to the shoreline.

View from the trail, overlooking the marsh

Ellisville Harbor State Park is open dawn to dusk. There is no charge, the beach is unattended, and dogs are unwelcome May to September on the beach. Even when we visited in August the parking area was not full. The longer walk to the beach may discourage summer beach goers, but this destination is pretty high up on my list, regardless of the challenges, for the hope of seeing seals at low tide. Happy trails!

Marjorie

Marjorie Turner Hollman is a writer who loves the outdoors, and is the author of Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd editionMore Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, and editor of 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: Finding the Sacred in everyday (and some very strange) Places.

She has been a freelance writer for numerous local, regional, and national publications for the past 20+ years, has helped numerous families to save their stories, and has recorded multiple veterans oral histories, now housed at the Library of Congress.

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Access to the ocean, Plymouth, Scussett Beach

Shifting Lots Preserve, Plymouth

We headed out toward Plymouth on a late summer day to see if we could find a place to walk along the shore. We had heard of Ellisville Harbor State Park, but learned once we arrived that the shoreline is actually about a one mile walk to reach the water. I will be fine walking this far in cooler weather, but despite being on the coast, which is always cooler than inland, the day was too warm for me to make this trek the day we visited. We wandered some more and stumbled across Shifting Lots Preserve, not far from Ellisville Harbor, held in trust by the Wildlands Trust, which also has a number of other conservation properties along the south shore.

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Shining Sea Bikeway, Falmouth, MA

Great Sippewissett marsh

We tend to avoid the Cape during the summer months. Parking is difficult, beach access is restricted in places to residents or those with visitor passes, but after Labor Day everything opens up and is simply easier to visit. With this in mind we headed to Falmouth, just over the Bourne Bridge, and found the northernmost parking area for the Shining Sea bikeway, where we set up our tandem bike and headed out.

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What a difference some rains makes–Salmon River, Comstock Bridge and Airline Trail CT

One of the multiple cascades we enjoyed on our visit to the Salmon River and Airline Trail after a recent hurricane

We took our adaptive tandem bicycle to the Salmon River State Forest in Colchester and East Hampton, Connecticut and found such a different place from our visit a few years back. Typically the Salmon River is wadeable in late summer, a small almost stream that cuts its way through steep banks of rock.

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Beavertail State Park, Jamestown, RI

Fisherfolk (and others) seek out this rocky outcrop jutting into the ocean

I have visited Beavertail State Park since before it was a state park. Years ago, it was a cool rocky shoreline with a lighthouse. The access road was dirt, with lots of potholes. Visiting here was an adventure, for sure! The area was not accessible except by those who enjoy rock hopping. When I was younger, that worked fine. Not so much these days.

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Peter Oliver’s Mill Park, Middleboro

The fish ladder at Oliver’s Mills Park, Middleboro

On our way elsewhere, we passed by an intriguing spot just off Route 44, 8 Nemasket Street, in Middleboro, and discovered a very cool historic site along the Nemasket River. As soon as we pulled into the good-sized parking area I knew I had heard of this before–Peter Oliver’s Mill Park has a fish ladder that is essential for migrating herring in the spring. My friend Brenda (Natures Fairy on Youtube) has shared videos of the migrating herring, but I had no idea it had all the historic features we found.

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