Monday, November 21, 2011

A Last Great Place

I promised one more post about Block Island (also known as New Shoreham, Rhode Island), included on a list The Nature Conservancy started in the early '90s called "The Last Great Places." The single reason this island remains special is that over 40% of it is preserved as open space in perpetuity by the Block Island Conservancy, the oldest environmental protection group on the island. The BI Conservancy, which works to preserve the unique characteristics of the island, also oversees a conservation easement program, which according to its website is a "legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust or government agency that permanently limits uses of the land in order to protect its conservation values." This allows landowners to continue to own and use their land as well as sell it or pass it on to family heirs. Mitchell Farm, featured in Robin Langsdorf's Polaroid transfer in my previous post, was a conservation easement purchase of 22 acres in 2007.

Nantucket has a beautiful, cobblestoned Main Street and a whaling history that made many islanders rich. Martha's Vineyard has lovely Edgartown, the Black Dog bakery, and the bluffs. BI's history does not mirror the history of its neighboring islands, and is far less fashionable than either of them. Dutch explorer Adrian Block charted the island in 1614 and the Old Harbor area was named a National Register historic district in 1974. Just a few of the island's other distinctive features are 17 miles of gorgeous beaches -- each different, with its own character, and all free -- and the Greenway trail network -- which includes more than 30 miles of connecting hiking trails -- and the very cool sacred labyrinth (pictured above), off Corn Neck Road with picturesque views over Sachem Pond toward North Light. This labyrinth is one of my favorite places on the island and is little visited, at least in my experience. As you can see from the photo, the labyrinth is a single, circular path that leads to a center bench and then back out again. It is not a maze, which has several dead ends. It is one of BI's quirky little spots, and as a browser on noted, "make sure your stupid, demonic and twice accursed cell phone is off. The labyrinth is a very special and unique place and deserves respect." I applaud this sentiment.

The photo of the staircase and the sea was taken at Mohegan Bluffs, a family favorite, and the other two photos are of the Rodman's Hollow plaque and a view over it. "It" refers to a 230-acre parcel of land that is considered the birthplace of conservation on Block Island. There is a wonderful hike through here and the preserve has the largest population of the state-endangered bushy rockrose in Rhode Island. Additionally, the also-threatened northern harrier feeds and nests here, and the only natural population of federally-endangered American burying beetle east of the Mississippi lives in the hollow.

For an island where there is supposedly not a lot to do, it surprises me that we always leave with a long list of things we didn't get to. This year, because of the hurricane, we didn't get to enjoy tapas on the great lawn of the Atlantic Inn. Or drinks on the fabulous porch of the National Hotel. Or sandwiches at Three Sisters. But at least we had an outdoor, candlelit dinner at the wonderful Manisses Hotel and we had the opportunity to see the new animals at the Abrams family farm (behind the hotel) and pet a baby alpaca. Then there was dinner at The Oar, games of bocce at the house we rented, Blocks of Fudge, Mansion Beach, feeding the ducks at the duck pond...the sparkling, late days of summer are over for the year on Block Island but they are still fresh in my memory. And one of these years I'll visit in the fall, which I'm told is an equally beautiful season.

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