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Water within reach, birds to watch, stripers to catch

Bird-watch or bike, sail or stroll, surf or paddle

August 7, 2011

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Most people are content to while away the hours on a beach with a good book in hand and a picnic cooler at their feet. Others (like me) last about an hour before they need to do something more physical. Here are 10 of my favorite activities along the coast:

SEA KAYAK SHEEPSCOT BAY, GEORGETOWN, MAINE

North of Freeport, fingers of land dangle off coastal Route 1 to create miles of sheltered bays to paddle. One of my favorite spots is Georgetown, where I usually rent a room from Coveside Bed-and-Breakfast (www.covesidebandb.com) and have Seaspray Kayaking (www.seaspraykayaking.com) deliver an oceanworthy kayak to Coveside’s dock. Careful not to start or end near low tide (or I’ll be digging for clams in the muck), I paddle south past the lobster boats to the Five Islands Lobster Co. wharf. On the way, I spot ospreys atop their oversized nests, seals popping their heads out of the water like periscopes, and the distinctive orange beak of the American oystercatcher. Yet, it’s paddling north on Little Sheepscot River, sheltered from the surf by MacMahan Island, that I truly cherish. The boulder-strewn shoreline is draped in seaweed and topped with velvety moss, creating a soothing, shady retreat in the late afternoon hours.

STROLL THE MARGINAL WAY, OGUNQUIT, MAINE

Newport’s Cliff Walk boasts exquisite ocean views and glimpses of Gilded Age mansions. Prouts Neck’s rocky shoreline will always be known as the place where painter Winslow Homer woke up early to take his daily stroll with his dog, Sam. Unfortunately, neither of those walks leaves you at Barnacle Billy’s (www.barnbilly.com), a beloved lobster-in-the-rough joint in Perkins Cove. Ogunquit’s Marginal Way rises atop the rugged shoreline, rewarding folks with views of pocket-sized beaches buttressed by boulders as you amble by century-old cedar trees and pines that have been stunted by the wind. The paved trail is accessible to all, from babies in strollers to the elderly in wheelchairs. Once in Perkins Cove, order that cup of chowder and lobster roll at the counter and grab a seat on the deck overlooking the harbor while you wait for your number to be called. You can make the return trip on the Marginal Way or take a trolley back into town.

BIKE TO MADAKET BEACH, NANTUCKET

Biking is my favorite mode of travel on Nantucket. If I’m craving a long ride by myself, I head east from old Nantucket town (where the ferries arrive) through the moors and cranberry bogs until I arrive at the rose-trellised cottages of Sconset. If I’m with the family, we choose an easy 3-mile bike trail to the waves of Surfside Beach. Child-free, my wife and I relish a late afternoon pedal to Madaket Beach. On the westernmost tip of the island, the beach has a narrow, wild feel to it as the white sand quickly drops down to the waters of the Atlantic. We bring a backpack full of provisions, say fresh sushi from Yoshii (2 East Chestnut St.) and sinfully good truffles from the Nantucket Chocolatier (One (1 Cambridge St.), plop ourselves on the beach (preferably after 6 p.m., when most families have vanished), and get ready to savor the sunset. Wine could help bring on that blissful “From Here to Eternity’’ moment of rolling in the waves, but we know full well that it’s a 5-mile jaunt on a rolling path back into town. So a bottle of seltzer water with lime is the more pragmatic choice.

BIKE PROVINCELANDS BIKE TRAIL, PROVINCETOWN

Cape Cod is blessed with a bevy of paved trails, from the Shining Sea Bikeway that extends from Falmouth to Woods Hole to the Cape Cod Canal Bike Path that snakes under the Sagamore and Bourne bridges to the 22-mile Cape Cod Rail Trail that meanders through the middle of the Cape from South Dennis to Wellfleet. Many bike trails, like the CCRT, are former railroad lines with little or no grade. If you have a hankering for hills (not to mention ocean views), head to the 8-mile-long Province Lands Bike Trail at the tip of the Cape. The roller coaster route dips in and out of dunes, weaving through scrub-pine forests and along beaches in one of the most unique bike paths you will ever ride. The loop starts at Herring Cove Beach and heads inland through Beech Forest, where the trees are often home to colorful warblers. Before sweeping downhill to the Province Lands Visitors Center, stop and look at the mounds of sand as they roll to the ocean - the Cape Cod National Seashore at its finest.

MOUNTAIN BIKE AT BLUFF POINT STATE PARK, GROTON, CONN.

Feel like mountain biking to the beach? At the 778-acre Bluff Point State Park fat wheelers are allowed to ride the dirt roads and numerous single-track trails that spread out in every direction like spokes in a wheel. Ride alongside Poquonock River as you head straight to Bluff Point Beach, choose one of the narrower trails to ramble along the shores, or veer inland to the John Winthrop house that dates to the early 1700s. Take a breather on the rocky bluffs where, on a clear day, you can see directly across Long Island Sound to New York’s Fishers Island and, to the left, Rhode Island’s Napatree Point.

WALK WINGAERSHEEK BEACH, GLOUCESTER Others such as Nauset Beach on the Cape and Hammonasset Beach on Long Island Sound are ideally suited for a long beach walk. At Wingaersheek, families wait for low tide to arrive so they can wade into the Atlantic. A long sand bar stretches almost a mile out to sea, coming close to that gleaming white lighthouse that juts out from the tip of land at Annisquam. When the water rushes in, indentations in the sand form warm wading pools for toddlers who may be wary of ocean waves. The older kids love the large rock formations on either side of the beach where they can clamber up and down the boulders, looking for crabs.

BIRD-WATCH AT ODIORNE POINT STATE PARK, PORTSMOUTH, N.H.

Sure, there are the peregrine falcons that nest in cliffs of Acadia National Park, those adorable puffins found offshore near Machias Seal Island, Maine, and the numerous piping plovers protected at Parker River Wildlife Refuge on Plum Island, but I like Odiorne Pointe State Park because of its unique location. The only spit of undeveloped coastline in the state, Odiorne Point is situated on the far end of Portsmouth Harbor. Its 135 acres of protected land make this a routine stop for our feathered friends along the Atlantic Flyway. It’s a good place to find black-backed gulls feeding along the shores or watch for double-crested cormorants drying their wings on the rocks. A 2-mile loop along the coast is a favorite of bird-watchers.

SURFCASTING FOR STRIPERS, MARTHA’S VINEYARD

There’s a reason why saltwater fly-fishing has outpaced all other categories of sport fishing the last several years. It’s called striped bass. Found all along the New England coast, these fish have voracious appetites, grow to more than 50 pounds, and fight like champions. Stripers, can be found in remarkable numbers along the rips that lead from the ocean into the island’s ponds. The beach south of the Edgartown Great Pond and Tisbury Great Pond are popular with local anglers. For expertise or gear, head to Coop’s Bait and Tackle (coopsbaitandtackle.com, 147 West Tisbury Road) near Edgartown. Cooper Gilkes is a third-generation islander who knows where the fish are biting.

WINDSURFING KALMUS BEACH, HYANNIS The southern shores of the Cape are known for their strong and consistent winds. Add shallow waters and a steady diet of waves, like the ones found at Kalmus Beach, and you have a board sailing mecca than can get crowded on weekends. If you can’t find your wind without knocking into another board, head down the road to West Dennis Beach, or Forest Beach at the end of Forest Beach Road, off Route 28 in Chatham.

TAKE A SAIL, NEWPORT, R.I.

The prevailing wind on Narragansett Bay is the “smoky sou’wester,’’ the same breeze that drew the America’s Cup race to Rhode Island for more than 50 years, until Australia’s victory in 1983. Almost without exception, calm, sunny mornings are followed by windy afternoons with the onshore breeze arriving between noon and 1 p.m. By midafternoon, the wind can build to 25 knots or more, but average speed is normally 10-20 knots. Experienced sailors can rent J/22s and Rhodes 19s from Sail Newport (www.sailnewport.org) at Fort Adams State Park. Novices can book a 34-foot O’Day with Sightsailing (www.sightsailing.com) and for two hours be under the watchful eye of Captain Ed. He delivers an in-depth history of the region while tacking between the yachts and lighthouses.

Stephen Jermanok can be reach-ed at www.activetravels.com.