Amid the new perfumes, sounds and colors that arrived daily last week as spring popped in the landscape, the joys of the season in South County were tempered by one little-known off-note. On Friday, the offices of the East Coast Greenway Alliance – an organization dedicated to creating a continuous recreational route from Key West to the top of Maine – closed their doors, shut the windows and turned off the phones at Lily Pads Professional Center in Peace Dale. Greenway headquarters have departed to Durham, N.C., and while the move makes sense on a number of levels, it’s still a loss for the local culture of “fresh air fiends,” to use an expression from author Paul Theroux.
The Greenway will still have a presence in Rhode Island, as Eric Weis, the organization’s trail program coordinator, lives in Providence and maintains a small office on Dorrance Street. But having the headquarters here gave legitimacy to all of the efforts to build public paths, whether on the spine of the Greenway or popular spurs – like the East Bay Bike Path, the Blackstone River Bikeway or the William C. O’Neill (South County) Bike Path, throughout the state. As a consequence, Rhody has become one of the more bike-friendly states on the Eastern Seaboard, with 50 miles of paved paths completed, another 40 miles at various stages of development, and bike routes and lanes integrated into its largest cities. A recent trip down Blackstone Boulevard in Providence revealed the kind of urban bike lane that would be the envy of any city cyclist. Despite its steep hills, potholes and long winters, Providence has emerged as a cycling town, thanks in large part to its steady influx of green-minded college students.
Not all Rhode Islanders are fans of public paths. In some places, such as the Canonchet section of Narragansett, NIMBY has reared its ugly head, as some residents have stonewalled the planned process for extending the South County Bike Path from South Kingstown to Narragansett Town Beach for years. Their arguments ring hollow, particularly since public access already exists in the neighborhood, which serves as the gateway to the South County Museum. Among their most recent rhetorical strategies is to express concern about the surrounding wetlands. It’s a great point. Makes you wonder why they didn’t consider it when they built their houses there.
NIMBY is a popular figure in Rhode Island, and I can even understand the angst when it comes to wind turbines, container ports, nuclear power plants, prisons and airports. But a bike path? As someone who lives two blocks from the most traveled bike path in the state, I can assure you that you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who lives on or near the route that doesn’t appreciate having it there. In an age when we’re combating obesity, inactivity and our dependency on expensive energy, bike paths are no-brainers for communities. They promote health and fellowship, provide opportunities to see nature in the raw and the progression of the seasons, and become a unifying source of pride for neighborhoods. Just this spring, jogging the path along White Horn Brook and Genessee Swamp in South Kingstown, I’ve encountered a deafening chorus of peepers screeching like banshees, hunting hawks and herons, deer and fawns bounding through the adjoining woods, beaver lodges, bugling geese and concerts of songbirds in the swamp and surrounding forest. At the path in Barrington, the town’s historic society has installed storyboard kiosks, documenting the region’s heritage as a place of oyster houses, lace factories and Wampanoag territory.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, but apparently it was built quicker than the town of Narragansett can build a bike path. So until that day happens, here’s this week’s question: What is your favorite bike path in Rhode Island?