It’s summertime and the livin’ is easy…but hot! Do you have an early-rising friend who is up for a local adventure? Why not get up a little earlier, while the air is still cool, and the birds are just beginning to stir, take an hour’s walk in a gorgeous spot, and then treat yourselves to an open-air (but in-the shade) breakfast? I love to get up before the sun in the summer to enjoy what is often the quietest, most beautiful part of the day. I have three Southcoast areas in mind that you might like to choose from for a 1 to 2 mile walk, and two local spots for coffee and a delicious muffin or other goodie afterwards, where you can sit outdoors in the shade with a bucolic view.
Ocean View Farm Reserve (Allens Neck Rd, Dartmouth, between Barney’s Joy Rd and Round the Bend Farm) is the newest of the Dartmouth Natural Resources Trust’s 18 properties with hiking trails, just opened on July 14th. It has a small parking lot on Allens Neck Road, and the completely flat, wide, grass trail (navigable for all-terrain strollers or wheelchairs) from there to the trail’s end is about three-quarters of a mile long. The northern end of the property (closest to the parking lot) is still part of a working farm, while the southern end consists of a large meadow and marshlands, which are being managed by the DNRT as wildlife habitat. The preservation of meadowland is important to help boost the declining population of grassland birds (such as the bobolink), and coastal habitat and marshlands are important for a whole host of creatures (including we humans who live near the coast – marshlands being nature’s “sponge” that can help protect us from rising seas). Because there are no trees along this route, it is best to get there in the very early morning (but make sure to wear insect spray – both to protect against ticks, and to repel mosquitoes). It is a lovely, calming place to walk with a big open sky, and abounding this time of year with clover blossoms and the bunnies who eat them. At the end of the trail you will find a wooden wildlife-viewing platform which you can climb up for an overview of the marsh and coastline. A round-trip (there is only this one trail at this site) will yield you an approximate 1.5-mile walk.
The Beach Loop at Allens Pond (in Dartmouth, but the address of the parking lot is 1280 Horseneck Rd, Westport): I have written in these pages about the Massachusetts Audubon Allens Pond Preserve before (it may be my favorite of all our local preserves), but for the purposes of a summer’s morning walk, I want to focus specifically on this one trail, the Beach Loop. At this time of year, when part of the beach is off-limits (during piping plover nesting season), the loop is only about a mile’s walk. Starting at the parking area, look for signs on the mown meadow-paths for the Beach Loop Trail. I like to walk through the meadow to the south end of the preserve first, towards the beach (look for the stone wall at the beach’s edge). As with the Ocean View Farm walk, there are no trees on this walk, so it is best done early in the morning (or near sunset) when you can enjoy the ocean breeze without a hot sun overhead. Again, applying insect repellent before setting out is a good idea. The beach is quite rocky, so wearing sturdy shoes and carrying a hiking stick can make your walk much more comfortable. This spot is an enchanting meeting of meadow, immaculately-kept stone walls, blossoms, waves, rocks and marshlands – with a wide sky overhead and on many days a clear view of the Elizabeth Islands in the distance. You might be tempted to sit for a spell on the small rocky hill that overlooks the beach – a great place to wait for sunrise, if you get up early enough. You are likely to glimpse ospreys, herons, swallows, and goldfinches at this time of year – but make sure not to disturb the piping plover nesting areas! The trail heads back to the parking area on a dirt road that crosses a marshy creek, and skirts the edge of Allens Pond (where you can choose to follow the Quansett Trail into the wooded area if you choose, but it may be uncomfortably buggy on a summer morning).
The Emilie Ruecker Wildlife Refuge/Seapowet Ave. walk: The Rhode Island Audubon sanctuary on Seapowet Avenue in Tiverton is a good place to park for an early-morning walk that might or might not include the sanctuary itself. It is a small but attractive wildlife refuge, offering views from its back side of the marsh and the Sakonnet River, with paths through a wooded area – thinly wooded enough that some breeze does penetrate the forest. (As always in the summer, remember to apply your insect repellent!) But you might want to skip the reserve and simply walk west (away from Rt. 77) along Seapowet Avenue, which will take you alongside farms, fields, and attractive rural homes, turning sharply south to parallel the Sakonnet River, where you will encounter more of the same – as well as goats, horses, miniature ponies, chickens and roosters and possibly cows. There is only sparse traffic on this road – but loads of beauty, especially as you come near the bridge at Sapowet Cove. After enjoying the view from the bridge, I usually turn around at this point, retracing my steps to return to my car, making it about a two-mile walk.
If you have chosen the Tiverton walk, I suggest Wilma’s Bakery at Walker’s Farmstand in Little Compton, which will take you about 10 minutes to get to by car. Just head south on 77 for a little over 5 miles. Walker’s will be on your right, and Wilma’s Bakery opens at 8 AM. You can sit at outdoor café tables in the shade, and if you like, supplement your coffee and baked goods with healthy fare from the farmstand. Stock up on fresh-picked tomatoes and corn before heading home!
If you walked in the Dartmouth/Westport area, head back north along Westport’s Horseneck Road until it turns into Pine Hill Rd, and take that until it hits Old County Road, where you turn left towards the Head Town Landing Country Store (488 Old County Rd), located at the head of the Westport River (about a 15-min. drive). Open at 6:30 AM, the store is also a bakery, with a dizzying variety of fresh-baked muffins (and donuts on weekends), and flavored coffees. I personally favor the pistachio muffin, but there are others I have yet to try. You will love taking your breakfast out to their side lawn where you can enjoy a swinging bench in the shade right next to the river. If it is a little too late in the day for breakfast, never mind – there’s also ice cream!