It was a walk in the park for the more than 400 participants who took part in this year’s First Day Hike at Rocky Point.
Hikers across the country started their year off on the right foot by joining First Day Hike events organized by the National Association of State Park Directors. Held in all 50 states, this year’s event at Rocky Point Park was Rhode Island’s sixth consecutive hike and the second time the popular program was offered at the park on New Year’s Day.
“I think the turnout was above expectations for a First Day Hike, but since it was at Rocky Point we always get a good crowd when we do events there. The public is very excited that the park is open,” said Felicia Celeberto of Parks and Recreation at the Department of Environmental Management (DEM), who helped organize the walk. “It was about the nicest weather you could ask for in January.”
Last year, more than 55,000 people participated nationally in First Day Hikes, which drew about 350 Rhode Islanders to the state’s walk held at Blackstone River State Park. The Rocky Point tour was free and open to the public, and participants took in the sights along the former amusement park's coastal trail while learning about its history.
“This is the twenty-fifth year of the hike. It started in Massachusetts, but over the last five years it’s been coming to state parks around the country,” said Chief Robert Paquette of DEM’s Parks and Recreation. “This is an initiative to get people outdoors during the months when we usually don’t have major activities in the Northeast in climates where there’s not many events taking place.”
The diverse crowd, made up of former park employees and patrons who loved rides like the Corkscrew and the Flume to those who were visiting for the first time, received insights into future plans for Rocky Point before the tour. Paquette told attendees that the park would continue to be passively used and noted that improvements to the park’s inside parking lot would continue, with a perimeter railing to be installed soon. Plans to repaint the Skyliner, the park’s former ski lift ride that was left standing after the park’s cleanup in 2014, are in the works with the involvement of the City of Warwick and the Rocky Point Foundation, he said.
Paquette also said that DEM hopes to construct additional cross-country trails that will connect to the existing two-mile trail loop. The department also hopes to install fencing near the top of the Skyliner, which sits on a cliff that’s nearby to some precarious drops. Additionally, more picnic tables will soon be added, but grilling and open fires will remain prohibited. Plans are also underway to reconstruct a pier at the park, tentatively projected for 2018.
Hikers snaked their way along the trail during the hike, stopping along points of interest such as the park’s famous arch – which once graced the fairgrounds of the 1964 World’s Fair – that was recently restored after decades of disrepair.
“It was such an honor being part of the hike. Felicia did an outstanding job facilitating the event, and her enthusiasm for the state park is inspiring to me,” said Rocky Point historian George LaCross, who served as a volunteer and was stationed at the arch to provide hikers with tales of the park’s history. “I was amazed at some of the questions and comments the hikers had for me, all displaying a high level of passion for the former amusement park and the current state park.”
A geocaching demonstration was also provided by Chris Kracik, and hikers were refreshed from Warwick Neck’s own gourmet coffee truck, Presto Strange-O. Complimentary hot chocolate and coffee, paid for by DEM, was provided by truck owner Jason Case. Hikers also received a commemorative Rocky the Lobster pin for participating.
“I would like to thank the volunteers who were stationed along the hike route to give brief talks on particular subjects and to thank the attendees for participating and sharing our love for the park,” said Celeberto. “I have a passion for Rocky Point that is unrivaled, and I want to share my knowledge of the park’s history and my love of the outdoors with others.”