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Living large

In Little Rhody it's one big thing after another

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Patricia Harris and David Lyon
Globe Correspondents / May 11, 2008

Good things come in small packages. At just 1,214 square miles, Little Rhody is smaller than some Texas counties, but its stature has never kept it from thinking big. Witness its bay-spanning suspension bridge and first-in-the-nation outdoor jazz festival. For leads on exploring a baker's dozen of the biggest things in the smallest state, turn to Page M8.

STATE PARK: Technically, Arcadia isn't a state park; it's a state management area, according to supervising forester Jay Aron, who explains that "management areas have more diverse uses than parks." The woodsy 14,000-acre site is crossed with gravel roads and trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Wood River and its tributaries and several ponds are stocked with rainbow and brook trout and Frosty Hollow Pond is reserved for fishing enthusiasts age 14 and under (ages 15 and up need a license). Hunting is allowed in season. "Wood River is also nice to canoe," says Aron. "It's not really rough but there can be branches or other hazards - and the water is really cold."

Arcadia Management Headquarters, 260 Arcadia Road, Hope Valley, 401-539-2356, riparks .com, office open Monday-Friday 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m.; day use activities free. Download maps from dem.ri.gov.

INSECT: Perched on a rooftop along Interstate 95 in Providence, the 58-foot-long, 9-foot-high insect could be mistaken for a prop for a horror flick, perhaps titled "The Termite That Ate Providence." But the "Big Blue Bug," as it's affectionately known, is more quirky mascot than ominous threat. The two-ton sculpture of reinforced steel and fiberglass was erected on the roof of New England Pest Control in 1980 and quickly earned a soft spot in the hearts of harried commuters and fans of the offbeat. The bug's more formal name, Nibbles Woodaway, was the winning entry in a 1990 radio contest. While many would think that a giant blue bug needs no embellishment, the folks at NEPC deck Nibbles out in holiday finery several times a year.

BUILDING: We'd really like to see the "Big Blue Bug" climb the "Superman Building." The 428-foot-tall Art Deco-style skyscraper on Kennedy Plaza in Providence is the state's tallest building and a fixture on the city skyline. The 26-story structure opened in the late 1920s as the Industrial Trust Tower, but gained its nickname because its stepped design resembles Clark Kent's Daily Planet newspaper building. Locals will do well to stick with the nickname. Currently called the Bank of America Building, it was recently sold and could change names again.

BEACH: Playing to its strength, Rhode Island calls itself "The Ocean State," and boasts 400 miles of coastline with more than 100 public and private beaches. The longest single sandy stretch is the seven miles from Watch Hill to Weekapaug in the southwest corner of the state. Perennially popular Misquamicut State Beach occupies a half-mile of that strand and has a parking lot for 2,700 cars. The state beach opened in 1959 and has provided generations of families with the classic summer outing of sea, sand, and sun.

Misquamicut State Beach, Atlantic Avenue, Westerly, 401-596-9097, riparks.com, open May weekends 9 a.m.-6 p.m., daily Memorial Day-Labor Day 9-6, residents $6 per car weekdays, $7 weekends, nonresidents $12/$14.

AGRICULTURAL EVENT: From modest beginnings in 1967, the Washington County Fair has grown into a five-day celebration of agricultural life. "We attract about 100,000 people," says Darlene Gardner, secretary of the fair committee, "but we try to keep it low-key and countrified." Highlights include national country

music acts, a large amusement area, truck- and tractor-pulling contests, and 4-H exhibitions. Food, of course, figures prominently. Along with the usual hot dogs, hamburgers, and fries, food concessions run by volunteer organizations offer Little Rhody favorites such as johnnycakes, clam cakes, chowder, and strawberry shortcake.

Route 112, Richmond, no phone, washingtoncountyfair-ri .com, Aug. 13-17, Wednesday-Saturday 8 a.m.-11 p.m., Sunday 8-8, $9, ages 10 and under free, free parking.

HIGHEST POINT: The rock outcropping just off Route 101 in Foster may stand only 812 feet above sea level, but a roadside sign confirms it as the highest point in Rhode Island. Called Jerimoth Hill after a late-19th-century landowner, the high point - but not the access to it - is owned by Brown University. Apparently it's high enough for members of the astronomy department to take celestial readings. Until the death of the longtime owner, who discouraged trespassers on the principal access route, Jerimoth Hill was considered "America's most inaccessible high point" by the Highpointers Club, whose members aspire to climb the highest peak in every state. New property owners allow respectful trekkers to slog up the arduous 125-yard journey from the highway to the summit, literally the top of Rhode Island.

Route 101 in Foster, 23 miles west of downtown Providence.

BIKE PATH: At 14 1/2 miles, the East Bay Bike Path between Providence and Bristol is already the state's longest - and will get even longer when it someday links up with the Blackstone River Bikeway. Completed in 1992, East Bay functions as a multiuse recreational path: Cyclists share the asphalt ribbon with joggers and stroller-pushers. Even the industrial Providence Harbor looks good from the bike path, and herons and egrets often fish in path-side marshy shallows. The route zips through an Audubon wildlife refuge and crosses bridges that are prime spots to drop a line to fish for stripers.

Accessible at 49 points from East Providence to Bristol, dot .state.ri.us/bikeri/.

BRIDGE: Constructed between 1966 and 1969, the Claiborne Pell Newport Bridge is not only the longest bridge in Rhode Island, but also the largest suspension bridge in New England. With a main span of 1,601 feet and an overall length of 11,247 feet, the bridge makes a graceful arc over Narragansett Bay to connect the islands of Conanicut and Aquidneck. "It's really elegant," says Alexander Nesbitt, a Newport-based photographer and proprietor of Blink Gallery. "It's prominently visible from most of Newport," he says. "It's our western skyline and it's always tangled up with sunset." Tourists often set up tripods to try to capture the iconic sunset image. "I've got several thousand photos of the bridge," Nesbitt admits, "and 99 percent are at sunset."

Blink Gallery, 89 Thames St., Newport, 401-847-4255, blinkgal leryusa.com, open Monday-Friday 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

LIGHTHOUSE: As a very small state divided by a very large bay, maybe it shouldn't be surprising that Rhode Island has 14 historic lighthouses still functioning as aids to navigation. The tallest lighthouse tower, built in 1884, is the 66-foot-high, brick-lined, cast-iron tower topped by Sakonnet Light on Little Cormorant Rock in the Sakonnet River near Little Compton. But the highest light is the Block Island Southeast Light on Mohegan Bluffs. The 1875 brick tower only rises 52 feet from its base, but because the lighthouse sits on a cliff above the sea, the focal plane of the light (measured as the midpoint of the light) is 258 feet above sea level.

FISHING PORT: In New England, Point Judith, R.I., is second only to New Bedford in the value of its fishing catch. In 2006, the last year for which full data has been published, the Point Judith fishermen landed 45.9 million pounds of fish worth $46.9 million. To see the vessels, head for Galilee, the sheltered harbor where they anchor when they're not at sea. The Point Judith Fishermen's Cooperative here provides dock facilities and handles processing, freezing, and marketing of the catch all up and down the Eastern Seaboard. But it still tastes best where it comes ashore. George's of Galilee at the docks offers a humongous baked seafood platter as well as fish and chips made with native flounder.

George's of Galilee, 250 Sand Hill Cove Road, Narragansett (Galilee), 401-783-2306, georgesof galilee.com, Sunday-Thursday 11:30 a.m.-8 p.m. (till 10 from Memorial Day), Friday-Saturday 11:30-9 (till 11 from Memorial Day), fish and chips $12.99-$14.99, baked seafood platter $24.99.

SEAFOOD FESTIVAL: The Charlestown Seafood Festival began in 1985 as a one-day event with seven vendors set up on a World War II-era airstrip. Now the three-day event features 45 seafood vendors, more than 100 crafts booths, amusement rides, and live entertainment. About 30,000 to 35,000 hungry people attend. "I serve about 1,000 boiled lobsters over the three days," says Doug Pettengill of D&L Lobster Express, "and about 1,000 lobster rolls and 10 to 12 bushels of steamers." Paul Drumm of Kenyon's Grist Mill, dishes out about 1,000 pounds of clam cakes made with his own stone ground yellow corn meal. "And that's pretty conservative," he says. He also serves "gallons and gallons" of clam chowder. "You have to have something to dunk your clam cakes into," he says.

Ninigret Park, Old Post Road, Charlestown, 401-364-4031, char lestownrichamber.com, Aug. 1-3, Friday noon-10, Saturday 11-10, Sunday 11-8, $7, ages 12 and under free, free parking.

CAROUSEL: No two figures are exactly alike on the 1895 carousel designed by noted manufacturer Charles I.D. Looff to beguile prospective riders. With 62 hand-carved figures and four chariots preserved inside an onion-domed pavilion, the carousel was named the Rhode Island State Symbol of American Folk Art in 1985 and designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1987. But it's the kids who best appreciate this classic: Just watch as they mount their steeds and concentrate on grabbing the brass ring.

700 Bullocks Point Ave., Riverside, 401-433-2828, open May-June 22 Saturday and Sunday noon-8, June 26-Labor Day weekend Thursday-Sunday noon-8, through Columbus Day weekend Saturday and Sunday noon-8, (open Monday holidays), tickets $1 (20 for $15).

OUTDOOR MUSIC FESTIVAL: Since 1954, the giants of jazz have graced the stages at the Newport Jazz Festival (now called the JVC Jazz Festival Newport), the first outdoor jazz festival in the country. About 24,000 people attend the three-day event, with the biggest crowds spread among three stages set up for Saturday and Sunday performances at Fort Adams State Park, the grassy headland that commands the entrance to Newport Harbor. The wide open spaces may be a far cry from smoky clubs of yore, but the scenery only makes the music more jubilant. The 2008 lineup hasn't been released, but past stars have run the gamut from Ella Fitzgerald to k.d. lang, from Wynton Marsalis to Diana Krall.

Newport Casino and Fort Adams State Park, Newport, 401-847-3700, festivalproductions.net, Aug. 8-10.

Patricia Harris and David Lyon, freelance writers based in Cambridge, can be reached at harris.lyon@verizon.net.

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