Our Environment: “RI Environmental Bucket List Item” By Scott Turner
Sunday, January 27, 2019
Over the 23 years that we’ve lived in the state, we’ve heard many positive things about the state’s breachways: Good for a day at the beach, watching birds, fishing, camping, launching boats, searching for shellfish and so on.
In fact, this was our first trip to something called a breachway, which may be a term unique to Rhode Island (like “bubbler”). In other coastal states, I think a channel between a salt pond and the sea is called a canal, or maybe an inlet.
We visited the breachway twice in the past month. Both times, the sky was blue, the sun bright, and the wind fierce.
On the first trip, the air temperature was about 35 degrees and a near-gale-wind made it difficult to stand in one spot. Huge waves slammed the shore, where the breachway’s waters, confined by riprap borders, flowed into the sea. High tide covered most of the beach. We stood on a path from the parking lot above a sliver of sandy shore.
Using binoculars, we scanned the whitecaps for wintering waterfowl. That day, the roiling offshore waters harbored several species of sea ducks and gulls, the latter both sitting atop the waves and flying overhead.
Our eyes wouldn’t stop tearing and our winter clothes failed to protect us from the chill. I nestled into the base of a snow fence to avoid the wind. Karen stood through the punishment until I asked her to help me up, so we could hightail it back to the car.
This visit also gave us the chance to see the channel and the land and water back from it.
In addition, the website notes that locals asked the state to appropriate funds for a “permanent breachway” in 1904, arguing that “the natural breach was filled in by the tides depositing sand thereby creating a barrier that separated the pond from the ocean. Also, a permanent breach would prevent the water in Ninigret/Pawaget/ Charlestown pond from becoming brackish and unfit for the cultivation and harvesting of oysters, an industry important to this area.”
On our second visit, the air temperature was 50 degrees, and the wind calmer. The tide was out, and this time we walked the shoreline east toward Charlestown Town Beach. The sand was clean and light in color, festooned by an occasional smooth rock. There were few seabirds to be seen.
Only two other people strolled the beach. Every few yards, we encountered a piece of plastic or a snippet of boat rope. We collected those for later disposal. A winter’s walk on a near-empty beach, on which you don’t freeze your tookus off, is a blessing.
From where we stood, the Rhode Island map showed Quonochontaug and Weekapaug breachways to our west. Those we have yet to encounter.
We have kayaked the Narrow River, which flows to and from the sea in Narragansett. But I don’t think that the Narrow River is a breachway because it wasn’t cut and lined with riprap by humans. Then there’s the channeled, jetty-framed water that runs out of Galilee (Where the ferry travels to and from Block Island). Is that passage a breachway?
We look forward to visiting the Quonochontaug and Weekapaug breachways. But we will likely do so in summer, when the weather will be better suited for an extended stay.
Once we do, I’m thinking we will celebrate afterwards with another item on our R.I. bucket list—an ice-cold glass of the state’s official drink—coffee milk.
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