On the Trail – Laura Orabone
WildforaRI, Spring 2018
Rhode Island boasts some 400 miles of splendid coastal habitat, and the Malcolm Grant Trail in Narragansett is a perfect way to spend a day getting acquainted with it. Dedicated in 2008 and named for a long-time official with the RI Department of Environmental Management, in “recognition for his participation in acquisition of Black Point for the citizens of Rhode Island and his advocacy of ADA access and this trail to the shore,” this grassy trail winds through dramatic, windswept headlands overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and up into Narragansett Bay.
Begin your exploration of this approximately four-mile trail system in the Black Point Fishing Area parking lot, directly across from 655 Ocean Road. From here you can follow the main trail south through a variety of maritime biomes, including woodlands, shrublands, and rocky cliffs, before reaching its terminus at the northern edge of Scarborough State Beach. A shorter loop trail, dedicated in 2012, winds to the north and offers some fine views of the bay.
The main trail begins by guiding you toward the coastline through grassy maritime shrubland. The habitat here is anchored by clumps of small trees and shrubs, including winged sumac (Rhus copallinum), arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum), black elderberry (Sambucus nigra), black cherry (Prunus serotina), and fragrant small bayberry (Morella caroliniensis). American pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) with its bright purple berries, the torch-like stalks of mullein (Verbascum thapsus), and the fuzzy leaves of burdock (Arctium minus) are a common sight. Often these anchor trees and shrubs are draped—some might even say choked— with a variety of climbers, both native and invasive. Wild rose (both Rosa rugosa and R. virginiana), greenbriar (Smilax glauca), wild grape (Vitis labrusca), and the common groundnut (Apios americana) weave themselves through strands of climbing nightshade (Solanum dulcamara), bramble canes (Rubus sp.), Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia), and poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans). Needless to say, a degree of care must be taken during blackberry season.
As the trail continues, you will notice an abundance of coastal wildflowers, offering beauty to the eye as well as habitat to local wildlife. White avens (Geum canadense) and broad-leaved enchanter’s-nightshade (Circaea canadensis) jostle with showy Turk’s cap lilies (Lilium superbum) and coastal plain Joe-Pye weed (Eutrochium dubium). Delicate jewelweed blossoms (Impatiens capensis), fluffy white meadowsweet (Spireae alba), and cheerful ox-eye daisies (Leucanthemum vulgare) sway over scattered constellations of Deptford pinks (Dianthus armeria). The rich greens of sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis) and cinnamon fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) offer a pleasing contrast to a variety of pale grasses, including velvet grass (Holcus lanatus), redtop (Agrostis gigantea), prairie cord grass (Spartina pectinata), and Timothy grass (Phleum pratense).
A number of side trails peel off from the main path, offering plenty of opportunities to wander and explore. Some lead back inland, toward the woodlands along the road, taking you through scrubby, disturbed areas of fireweed (Chamerion spp.), grape (Vitis spp.), Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica), hay-scented fern (Dennstaedtia spp.), and dewberry (Rubus flagellaris) before you reach the woodlands. Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana), Norway spruce (Picea abies), shadbush (Amelanchier spp.), sassafras (Sassafras albidum), and black and scarlet oaks (Quercus spp.) dominate here, providing shade, wildlife habitat and a welcome screen from summer traffic noise.
Other side trails allow you to scramble down rocky cliffs, climb huge glacial erratics, and explore tide pools along the water’s edge at low tide. On a clear day, both the Point Judith and Beavertail lighthouses are visible in the far distance. You are now venturing into the maritime rocky cliff community. Here you encounter salt-tolerant coastal plants such as beach pea (Lathyrus japonicus), seaside plantain (Plantago maritima), orache (Atriplex spp.), black mustard (Brassica nigra), scarlet pimpernel (Lysimachia arvensis), and seaside goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens), which can be found nearly to the tide line, tucked between cracks in the rocks. Take care to watch your footing along here—the rocks below the tide line can be quite slippery, and the path becomes muddy after rain. The black rocks just offshore mark a popular fishing spot, but please resist the urge to explore them, as several people have slipped and drowned in this area.
The southern end of the trail brings you to Scarborough State Beach and the ruins of an old stone carriage house that belonged to one of the many large estates that once dominated the coastline. Some say it was destroyed by fire; others blame the infamous hurricane of ‘38. Its remains are now slowly succumbing to the ravages of time, the weather, and bored young people. Nonetheless, it provides a pleasant spot to rest and enjoy a sunset.
Directions: Park in the gravel lot directly across from 655 Ocean Road, just north of Scarborough State Beach. A sign marks the parking lot as Black Point Fishing Area. A walking stick is a handy thing, especially on uneven or slippery terrain. Special thanks to Hope Leeson, botanist for the Rhode Island Natural History Survey, for her assistance in coastal plant identification.
Photos by Laura Orabone