Rhode Island's East Bay Bicycle Path

Posted 09/01/09 by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy in America's Trails

East Bay Bicycle Path | Photo by Scott Stark

Trail of the Month: September 2009

For most people, commuting to work is not something you savor. Yet Geoff Williams has a different perspective. Since he began working for Brown University in 2005, he pedals into downtown Providence, R.I., year-round on the 14-mile East Bay Bicycle Path (EBBP)—often stopping to snap photos on the way. "It's gorgeous every morning," says Williams. "I find myself slowing down sometimes, because it's so nice to ride along there."

It's about an eight-mile ride each way from his home in Riverside. Williams gets to spend most of that time on the rail-trail, which ends just a few blocks from campus. If there's a downside to the commute, though, you could say it's that he only picks up the pathway near the midpoint.

To revel in the full EBBP experience, you can start your trip at the southern terminus in Bristol. Colt State Park is right around the corner, and the trail jogs north past Mill Pond, cuts over land for a half-mile and then skates along the eastern shore of Narragansett Bay. As you pass through Warren (once the headquarters of Samsonite luggage), the corridor ducks inland again for a few miles across the Barrington and Warren rivers. You'll weave through wooded and residential areas, community centers and marshlands, and over several ponds and coves in Veterans Memorial Park—one of the first, but certainly not the last park you'll discover along the trail.

Scooting along the EBBP, in fact, is kind of like playing hopscotch with parks. Between business strips and bay views, you bound from green space to green space, and opportunities to gawk at the landscape pop up almost between blinks.

Your next stop on the park tour is Haines Memorial State Park, a popular access point for the trail. From there, the EBBP darts northwest through neighborhoods to connect once again with Narragansett Bay. It's all shoreline from Bullocks Point Avenue north to Providence. On the way, you'll pass signs to Crescent Park, then Sabin Point Park, Squantum Woods State Park and Bold Point Park, and then finally you cross Washington Bridge (Interstate 195) into India Point Park in Providence.

Few spots so perfectly capture the EBBP's history as India Point Park. Originally, the park's location was a port for trade ships trafficking between the East and West Indies in the 1700s. When the railroad arrived in the 1850s, the port became a debarkation point for new immigrants to America. Later, in 1900, the New Haven Railroad converted the route for electric cars using overhead lines, and service continued until 1974.

East Bay Bicycle Path | Photo by TrailLink user tysonpking
East Bay Bicycle Path | Photo by TrailLink user tysonpking

Three centuries removed from those first days of trade, the park and trail continue to showcase Narragansett Bay and Rhode Island's harbor personality. The final leg of the EBBP into Providence, in particular, provides some of the area's most dynamic marine scenes. Swans and cormorants and legions of waterfowl flap along the waterfront. The capital skyline rises over the bay to the north, tugboats chug through the channel, and sails of every size cut across the chop. "It's the closest you can get to sailing without actually being on the water," says Williams.

He used to enjoy this ride even more a couple years ago, when he would tow his youngest daughter along in a trailer. Before she started pre-school, her daycare was right near Brown, so he could drop her off right on his way to work. "We'd stop and see the geese together along the way," he says, "or watch the boats come in and out. It was a really nice way to start the morning with her and come home with her at the end of the day."

Of course, Williams is far from alone in his regard for the EBBP. Hundreds of locals and visitors use the trail regularly, and some—like his colleague Ken Zirkel at Brown—even chose where to live based in part on their proximity to the pathway.

When Zirkel moved to Providence four years ago, he and his wife researched recreational amenities in the area. "We were kind of on the lookout for rail-trails," he says. They eventually found a home in Seekonk, Mass., just over the state line and about three miles from the EBBP. Since then, they've brought their two kids out on the trail a few times a year, often pedaling the stretch from Haines Memorial State Park south toward Barrington and Veterans Memorial Park. "It's just a beautiful, beautiful trip, and perfect for kids," he says.

If Zirkel ever wants to extend the ride a little farther, all he has to do is remind his kids about what's ahead in the town of Warren: the Fruity Cow, which specializes in smoothies and ice cream (they even have a "bike-up" window). "You can always coax the kids along by saying a couple miles until the ice cream shop," he says.

Whether you're angling for ice cream or heading to work, the EBBP has a way of making each visit feel distinctive. It pleases with every curve and never lets a view grow old. Even some of the pathway's most devoted users, after all, never tire of the ride. "After four or five years," says Williams, "I'm still thinking this couldn't get any more beautiful."

For more information, photos and user reviews of the trail, or to post your own comments, please visit TrailLink.com.

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