Block Island: Why It’s One Of The “Last Great Places”

Ideas, Rhode Island — By on August 9, 2011 at 12:00 pm

By Erin Kent
Special to The Lost Girls 

Named by the Nature Conservancy as one the twelve “Last Great Places” in the Western Hemisphere, Block Island lies about 13 miles south of the coast of Rhode Island and 14 miles east of Montauk Point on Long Island – but beyond New England, most people have never heard of it. And to be honest, I like it that way.

A huge part of the island’s charm is the feeling that once you’ve stepped off the ferry and onto the docks, you’ve magically entered another era. But you can really only connect with the soul of the island once you’ve made your way past the throngs of people in Old Harbor, the single fully developed area of the island.

Block Island has managed the feat of building a thriving summer tourist industry while, in many ways, remaining an almost perfectly preserved relic of the past. You won’t find a chain or franchised store in sight; dozens of children sell lemonade along the winding island roads; and most residents forgo cars in favor of leisurely bike rides. People walk around slowly like they’ve got no place to be – and it’s because they really, truly don’t.

Although it’s become a popular New England summer vacation spot, the majority of the island remains undeveloped and almost completely untouched – in other words, for this native of New Jersey, which is the most densely populated state in the country, it’s an idyllic paradise. I can’t help but wax poetic about Block Island; there’s something about this place that lulls your mind into a peaceful state of ease, a state rarely experienced in the crazy, frenzied rush of day-to-day life (did I forget to mention I work in New York City?).

Block Island is only seven miles long and three miles wide, but that’s enough territory to provide both visitors and year-round dwellers with spectacular views of dramatic coastal bluffs, rolling hills covered in tall grass, more than 300 fresh water ponds, and carefully preserved beaches and dunes. Sure, visitors usually don’t have anything on their agendas except lazing about on the beach, stuffing themselves full of seafood and imbibing Dark ‘n’ Stormies and Narragansett beers, but if you don’t explore the natural beauty of Block Island, you really haven’t experienced the island at all.

Here are some of Block Island’s must-see natural attractions:

Southeast Lighthouse Area
Built in 1874, Southeast Lighthouse offers some of the best views of Block Island’s rugged coast. Standing next to the structure, you’ll be amazed by the vastness of the blue ocean before you and the unobstructed view of the Mohegan Bluffs to your right. During the summer, the Lighthouse is a museum that educates visitors about the building’s long history as a beacon of light that can be seen 35 miles out to sea.

Mohegan Bluffs
Off Southeast Light Road, the Mohegan Bluffs are, in my opinion, the highlight of Block Island. Dropping 150 feet to a beach covered in huge boulders and fringed by crashing waves, the Bluffs give you a taste of the island’s awesome landscape in a totally unadulterated state. After climbing down the huge staircase leading from the site’s vantage point to the shore, you’ll feel like a little kid again as you climb over the rocky terrain and explore all the nooks, crannies and crevices along the way.

Clayhead Nature Trail
This scenic trail takes you on a winding path through shrubs, grass-covered fields and wetlands until you reach the coast. Depending on which route you take, you’ll end up exploring the island’s farms, ponds and wildlife, or standing on the high points overlooking the coastal bluffs. Either way, this trail provides a way to experience Block Island’s diverse landscape, including the inner parts of the island.

The Spring House
OK, so it’s not a natural attraction, but hands down, the Spring House is the best place to get a drink in Block Island. If you want to visit a place that encompasses the old-school charm of Block Island, the Spring House is it. The island’s oldest hotel and resort, Spring House has hosted Mark Twain, Ulysses S. Grant, Billy Joel and several Kennedy weddings. A classic Victorian structure, the hotel’s wraparound veranda and cupula provide spectacular views of the ocean and Block Island’s foothills. On the rolling hills in front of the hotel, you’ll find a row of white wooden lounge chairs, or rather, the absolute most perfect spot to sip a drink and take in the vast, blue ocean before you.

All photos by Erin Kent.

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    1 Comment

  • Andersson says:

    I, too, have never heard of Block Islands and it’s good to have another one down on my so-called “secret places in the world” list.