Welcome to the second installment of a weekly feature, “Around R.I.” Every Thursday we’ll highlight an interesting aspect of life in Rhode Island, from dining to parks to museums to shopping and more. Tell us what you’d like us to check out by sending an e-mail to RInews@globe.com.
Next week: Dan McGowan reviews food options at the Ocean State’s beaches, followed by the best Weight Watchers meetings.
WEST GREENWICH, R.I. — Why don’t you go straight to Hell’s Half Acre.
That’s what I would tell you — if you were looking for a great place to do some trail running, hiking, walking, or mountain biking.
Despite its name, Hell’s Half Acre is a heavenly spot, situated in the southwest corner of the Big River Management Area in West Greenwich. And it’s just one of the many top-notch options Rhode Islanders have for outdoor exercise, whether that involves a casual stroll, a brisk hike, an invigorating bike ride, or a dash down a wooded trail.
Back in the 1800s, the New London Turnpike was an important conduit between Providence, Connecticut and New York, and small villages sprouted up along the route.
“Now off the beaten path, this one particular village became a haven for gambling, prostitution, and an occasional murder, earning its name Hell’s Half Acre,” the Trails and Walks in Rhode Island website says.
Well, I can report that these days, the most dangerous thing you’ll find in Hell’s Half Acre are a few black flies.
But on a recent run, I did find a tattered leather jacket hanging from a branch on a single-track trail in the middle of the woods, along with some rusted pieces of metal and plastic tubing. So Hell’s Half Acre still has some stories to tell.
Bob Jackman, a Warwick resident and ultramarathoner who is president of the Tuesday Night Turtles running club, joined me on a recent run through Hell’s Half Acre, and he provided scouting reports on five of the best places for trail running in Rhode Island. All five are good destinations whether you’re running or hiking — leaping over fallen logs or just strolling through the woods.
RUNNING AND HIKING TRAILS
Big River Management Area (including Hell’s Half Acre), West Greenwich
Facts: The Big River Management Area covers 8,600 acres, and AllTrails offers 20 options for Big River hikes. The state began planning a reservoir there in 1928 and eventually obtained land from 351 owners at a cost of $7.5 million. But the plan ran into opposition, the state placed the project on indefinite hold in 1990, and in 1993 the General Assembly voted to maintain the land as open space. It’s now used for activities such as hiking, canoeing, and military training. In fact, during our run, a military helicopter flew just above the treetops, raining pine needles down on our heads.
Why Bob likes it: You can choose your own adventure. There is a big variety of trails, with dirt roads and single-track trails going for miles and miles. You can be out there all day and not see a single person.
Place to start: We started from a dirt parking area on Congdon Mill Road, just over a one-lane bridge over the Congdon River. The Hell’s Half Acre trail goes for about 3 miles, but it connects to a vast web of trails in the Big River Management Area. And many people enter the trail system from the parking lot at Nooseneck Hill Road (Route 3) and Burnt Sawmill Road, just off Route 95.
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Pulaski State Park, Glocester
Facts: Pulaski State Park is a 100-acre park within the 4,000-acre George Washington Management Area. The site includes the 13-acre Peck Pond, and there are bathrooms in the park building.
Why Bob likes it: For eight years, he organized a trail run through these woods called “Run with the Beavers.” The winners received hand-fashioned wooden awards, plus beer. The trails are a good mix of single-track and wide-open trails carpeted with pine needles. And there’s nothing better than diving into that ice-cold pond after a long, hot run.
Place to start: A paved parking lot off Pulaski Road provides easy access to the trail head. The race course for “Run with the Beavers” covered five miles, passing beaver dams along the way.
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Diamond Hill, Cumberland
Facts: For decades, Diamond Hill was a pint-sized version of the Alps, with a ski area that reached to all of 481 feet above sea level. The Diamond Hill Town Park, on the east side of Route 114, offers some decent trails, but trail runners and mountain bikers gravitate to the network of trails on the west side of Route 114.
Why Bob likes it: The trails on the west side are phenomenal. It has more hills than the other locations, but it has miles of trails that are reasonably well-marked. And when you get done, you can stop at The Ice Cream Machine.
Place to start: The parking lot for the town park is at 4097 Diamond Hill Road, half a mile south of the intersection with Wrentham Road (Route 121).
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Ryan Park, North Kingstown
Facts: Once an abandoned dump, Ryan Park covers 350 acres, including athletic fields, boat-ramp access to Belleville Pond, a playground, picnic tables, and about four miles of trails. The loop that circles the smaller portion of Belleville Pond goes over the “rainbow bridge.”
Why Bob likes it: It’s smaller than the other spots, but it’s great for someone just going for a walk or a short run. And if you venture beyond the power lines, you will find sections of rolling single track that are growing because of mountain bikers.
Place to start: The largest parking area is at the baseball fields on Oak Hill Road.
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Tillinghast Pond Management Area, West Greenwich
Facts: Tillinghast Pond’s 13-mile trail system is one of the most popular hiking areas in Rhode Island. Designed in partnership with the National Park Service and constructed with the help of dozens of volunteers, the trails offer a sense of remoteness that is hard to find in southern New England, according to the Nature Conservancy.
Why Bob likes it: It’s a little further away, and you don’t feel like you are in Rhode Island. You get out there on a lot of single-track trails and see old foundations and stone walls. The trails are well-marked.
Place to start: Entrances are on Plain Road and Plain Meetinghouse Road.
BIKING ROUTES AND TRAILS
Ben Piecuch, a Providence resident who has twice raced internationally on Team USA in the duathlon, has covered many miles biking on the roads and bike trails of Rhode Island. He provided scouting reports on five bike routes and trails that represent a mix of long-distance rides for serious cyclists and casual bike trail trips for families.
Newport Island Circuit Tour through Newport and Middletown
Facts: The Narragansett Bay Wheelmen have amassed an impressive array of Rhode Island riding routes, and one of the more scenic is a 29-mile ride that follows Ocean Drive past Brenton Point State Park and many of Newport’s famous mansions. The Hammersmith Farm Estate, along the route, was JFK’s summer White House. In Middletown, the ride passes First and Second beaches, Purgatory Chasm, the Norman Bird Sanctuary, and St. George’s School.
Why Ben likes it: This has to be the most scenic route in Rhode Island. When you talk about bang for your buck, it has more sites and coastal views than any other route. Certainly, this route will be busy in the summer, but come winter you will have it pretty much to yourself.
Place to start: Fort Adams State Park, site of the Newport Jazz and Folk Festivals
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North Country 50 through Smithfield, North Smithfield, Woonsocket, Scituate, Foster, and Johnston
Facts: This route offers rides ranging from 18 to 49 miles, beginning in my hometown of Smithfield. The ride will take you around the Scituate Reservoir, the largest inland body of water in Rhode Island and the source of Providence’s water supply. And it will take you all the way north to Woonsocket.
Why Ben likes it: He rides these roads a lot and loves the rolling hills. While Rhode Island pavement can offer plenty of pothole hazards, the surface on this route is pretty solid.
Place to start: Anna McCabe Elementary School, 100 Pleasant View Ave., Smithfield
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Warwick Ride: Remembering Rocky Point
Facts: The Warwick Bicycle Club created this ride way back in the 1920s, according to the Narragansett Bay Wheelmen. The course goes by summer homes and mansions along Oakland Beach and offers views of Greenwich Bay. It goes down Warwick Neck, past Rocky Point State Park — site of the former Rocky Point Amusement Park on Narragansett Bay, and I highly recommend cranking the Rocky Point TV commercial as you pedal by. Also, T.F. Green Airport is nearby, and the course description contains a warning: “Watch out for airplanes!”
Why Ben likes it: The section through Buttonwoods is gorgeous. There are beautiful homes and Greenwich Bay views. You can stop at the Rocky Point Farm to pick blueberries. With the airport nearby and with the wind at your back, you will feel like you are flying.
Place to start: Buttonwoods Plaza on Route 117.
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Washington Secondary Bike Path through Cranston, West Warwick, and Coventry
Facts: This is the state’s longest bike path, stretching 19 miles from Cranston Street in Cranston to Log Bridge Road in western Coventry. It is named for the abandoned rail corridor once served by the Providence, Hartford, & Fishkill Railroad. For more than half its length, the path runs parallel to the Pawtuxet River.
Why Ben likes it: It’s not too crowded, and it’s really a pretty bike path, especially as you go through Coventry. It’s secluded and shady. And at the end of the Coventry path is a great place called the Summit General Store, where you can fuel up on a homemade muffin.
Place to start: The Brewery Parkade, near the Lowe’s in Cranston.
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East Bay Bike Path through Providence East Providence, Barrington, Warren, and Bristol
Facts: The East Bay Bike Path extends for 13.8 miles, connecting eight parks: India Point Park in Providence, Bold Point and Squantum Woods in East Providence, Haines and Veterans Memorial Park in Barrington, Burr’s Hill Park in Warren, and Colt State Park and Independence Park in Bristol.
Why Ben likes it: He doesn’t like it. But it is a great place for families to go on a sunny weekend day for some casual biking, walking, or jogging. His point is that it’s too busy a place for a serious cyclist clipped in and wearing Spandex.
Place to start: India Point Park in Providence.