It was a beautiful August afternoon—a perfect day to spend some time by the water. My older son and I had about three hours, the length of his brother’s playdate, with one caveat—we had to be close enough to return quickly in case the playdate went sour, such as if, for example, someone broke an arm (not kidding).
Providence was in range and, frankly, I was interested in seeing Waterplace Park again during the day. I had recently heard Barnaby Evans, the creator of WaterFire, speak at a conference, and he said that WaterFire had been a catalyst for bringing people to the park, which otherwise was often empty.
Our quest: to determine whether there was a reason to visit Waterplace Park sans WaterFire.
We arrived and readily found a parking space (the first plus) on a nearby street, headed down the stairs to the basin and began walking from there along the Woonasquatucket River towards the Providence River and the Rhode Island School of Design. A few folks were eating al fresco at Café Nuovo. We saw an empty gondola tied up at a dock, with the gondolier seated nearby. We passed a few people having lunch on benches. Some small gardens bursting with flowers provided a little greenery to punctuate the urban landscape. My son was impressed by some of the beautiful old buildings, several of which belonged to RISD (“I didn’t know they had a MUSEUM!”).
We walked by Memorial Park and briefly inspected the impressively tall World War Memorial (created before anyone imagined there would be a second) and the Holocaust Memorial. We hadn’t seen a tremendous number of people, but we didn’t feel alone in the city, either. There were even a couple photographers, and although I had my own camera, I thought of a photographer friend’s admonition that midday light is “awful.” Perhaps they were, as a friend called me, reverse vampires, who could only go out during the day while they were free from childcare and other obligations.
We crossed the South Water Street Bridge and headed towards Custom House Street and the home of Knead Doughnuts, visiting which is another benefit of taking this city walk during the day, since Knead closes at 3 p.m.
Soon refreshed, we headed back to the river to explore a little further south. We only got as far as the Irish Famine memorial, though, before I realized I had forgotten to feed the meter. Being in the heart of downtown is always warmer than elsewhere anyway, so neither of us was sorry to head back.
And it was on the way back that we started to see more signs of life on the river itself. A tour boat was carrying passengers under the College Street Bridge. When we reached the gondola again, the gondoliers were standing near it, talking to, perhaps, a potential customer. As we got closer to the basin, two kayakers approached, heading down river. Apparently, they had rented kayaks from Providence Kayak Company, which is located in Waterplace Park. And as we climbed the stairs back to our car (no ticket!) we passed some technicians setting up for a WBRU summer concert in the park.
The verdict: There is life after (or outside of) WaterFire, and if you enjoy the city without the crowds, a pleasant afternoon walk (or boat ride) will yield the discovery of some lovely monuments and public art, the opportunity for an outdoor meal ranging from a picnic to food truck fare to fine dining, and all with free parking. (Ahem.)
If no news is good news, the playdate was going well so my older son and I still had some time to explore another site, and we headed over to India Point Park.
India Point Park is an 18-acre park along where the Seekonk and Providence rivers meet at upper Narragansett Bay. A breeze swept along the shoreline, making India Point noticeably cooler than downtown. This, then, was where everyone was, and I was lucky to get the last parking spot (also free, but this time legitimately) just outside the small lot. We walked into the park and past children playing in the playground. We saw folks out sailing small sailboats, perhaps from the Community Boating Center, while a bicyclist from the East Bay Bike Path, which begins at India Point, took a break on a bench. A young woman worked on her computer at a picnic table while small scattered groups of friends and family chatted or ate lunch on blankets spread out on the grass. The draw is obvious. From the park, the bay affords views of boating activity, the remnants of old piers (and Rhode Island’s largest ship graveyard), and industry, as the blades of wind turbines turn in the distance. We sat for a little while on a bench, taking it all in, and then turned around to head back to the car.
It was an enjoyable afternoon of sightseeing and people watching, and if we had not been quite so warm, tired, and full of doughnut, we could have stayed longer and tossed a football around. As we got back into the car, my son said to me, “Thank you for taking me here.”
Want to discover more places like Waterplace Park and India Point Park? Check out shoreline-ri.com.
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— Monica Allard Cox, Rhode Island Sea Grant Communications Director