Trail of the Month: June 2003
Blackstone River Bikeway and East Bay Bicycle Path, Rhode Island
The East Bay Bicycle Path, which runs south from India Point Park in Providence to Independence Park in Bristol, is Rhode Island's oldest and longest rail-trail at 14.5 miles. Completed in 1992, the path hugs the shore of Narragansett Bay and other waterways, offering up stunning water views. The path's creation is credited to a group of activists, including East Providence's George Redmond. Now 78 years old, Redmond saw the path as a way to connect people to the shoreline and create a sense of community.
Then-Governor Edward DiPrete gave a green light for the East Bay Bicycle Path in 1983, and four years later the Rhode Island Department of Transportation began converting the long abandoned Providence & Worcester Railroad right-of-way, laying four miles of trail from East Providence to Barrington. The path's four phases were completed by 1992 at a cost of $5 million. Since then the path has become increasingly popular with both local residents and tourists from other states.
Unlike the East Bay Bicycle Path, the Blackstone River Bikeway is a work in progress, with eight project segments totaling approximately 18 miles of both multi-use trail and on-road signed bike routes between Providence and Woonsocket (near the Massachusetts border). Once in Massachusetts, the Blackstone River Bikeway will connect with a project to bring the trail to Worcester. At its southern end, the bikeway will eventually link with the East Bay Bicycle Path, making a continuous 31.9-mile route for alternative transportation.
The bikeway lies in a 400,000-acre swath of land known as the John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor between Providence, R.I., and Worcester, Mass. The corridor is named for the late John H. Chafee, Rhode Island's progressive Republican U.S. senator who was instrumental in pushing through two bicycle-friendly transportation bills in the 1990s. Carved out by the Blackstone River, the valley boasts industrial history and natural beauty in equal parts. The river and the canal that run alongside it were once home to so many textile mills that the river flowed different colors, depending on what was being dyed from day to day. Today, a new organization led by Sue Barker called the Corridor Coalition is busy advocating for the restoration of the Blackstone River and its environs.